Easter, of course, is a religious holiday that celebrates the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ in Christian belief.
But, what do eggs and rabbits have to do with the Christian belief? Where did these traditions originate?
For that matter, why do we call the holiday, “Easter?”
The answer is that, as with many Christian holidays, the holiday incorporated many traditions from celebrations far older than Christianity.
The word, “Easter,” for instance, comes from the name of the Norse earth goddess, Oestre, who was celebrated in the Spring, the time of rebirth and renewal. Hot cross buns were originally used in her celebration, with the four quarters of the cross representing the phases of the moon. This was an obvious symbol for the Christians to adopt to symbolize the cross.
The Egyptians and Persians exchanged eggs decorated in pastel colors in the Spring. Many of them believed that the Earth hatched from an egg, and the egg is an obvious symbol for fertility and rebirth. Early Christians adapted this tradition, using red eggs to symbolize the Resurrection.The ancient Greeks and Romans used eggs as fertility symbols, as well. Eggs have been decorated in the spring for thousands of years, and as Easter gifts, for at least five hundred years. According to About.com, for instance, Edward I of England spent “eighteen pence for 450 eggs to be gold-leafed and colored for Easter gifts.”
Rabbits also symbolized rebirth to the Egyptians, who associated rabbits with the moon. Since the moon determines the date of Easter, the Christians soon made that connection, too. The tradition of the Easter Bunny, who brings colored eggs, originated in Germany and was brought to America by German immigrants.
And so we see that like most holidays, our Easter celebration has roots that go back much further and reach out much farther than most of us ever realize. It was the Christian church’s ability to adapt the customs that people knew and loved that allowed it to spread in the way that it did.
Today, children delight in decorating and hunting eggs, getting stuffed bunnies in baskets, and celebrating the return of Spring. For Christians, Easter has deeper meaning today. But for everyone, in any culture, time or belief season, it only feels right to celebrate Spring and, thus, celebrate life anew every year.