Easter is here! Easter is the most important and oldest festival of the Christian Church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and held (in the Western Church) between March 21 and April 25, on the first Sunday after the first full moon. Families across the globe celebrate differently but here are eight Easter traditions and their origins.
1. Dyeing Easter Eggs
The tradition of decorating eggs of all kinds goes back to ancient pagan times. Eggs represent rebirth and life so no wonder they are associated with spring and new growth. When Christians came along, they likely incorporated the tradition into their celebrations. According to some legends, Mary or Mary Magdalene could be responsible for our annual trek to the store to buy vinegar and dye tablets. As the story goes, Mary brought eggs with her to Jesus’s crucifixion, and blood from his wounds fell on the eggs, coloring them red. Another tells us that Mary Magdalene brought a basket of cooked eggs to share with other women at Jesus’s tomb three days after his death. When they rolled back the stone and found the tomb empty, the eggs turned red.
2. The Easter Bunny
The Easter Bunny may not seem like it connects to the meaning of Easter but according to Time, the tradition again dates back to the pagans. They celebrated a goddess of fertility named Eostre and as you may know, bunnies are known for one thing… It’s thought that German immigrants brought their tradition of an egg-laying hare called Osterhase to the U.S. in the 1700s.
3. Easter Baskets
Easter baskets, although contain goodies, are similar looking to nests. It connects back with the German Osterhase tradition to encourage this mythical bunny to stop by their houses, children would fashion nests for it to come and lay its colored eggs. Over time the nests evolved into baskets.
4. Easter Fashion Parades
Apparently, there’s an old superstition that wearing new clothes on Easter means good luck for the rest of the year. Some may say it connects to rebirth and renewal but there is no evidence that supports that claim. Either way, fancy new finery deserves to be seen for more than 60 minutes during Easter services, so in the mid-1800s, parishioners in New York arranged themselves into a little post-church fashion show as they left their Fifth Avenue churches. The tradition continues today, though the term “finery” seems to be a bit broader now.
5. Sunrise Services
As the story goes, Mary opened Jesus’s tomb at dawn on Easter morning to find it empty. In honor of the occasion, many churches hold services at sunrise so parishioners can experience the event similar to how it happened. The first one on record was held in 1732 in Saxony (now Germany), by a group of young men. The next year, the entire congregation attended the early-morning ceremony, and soon, the sunrise service had caught on across the country. By 1773, sunrise services had spread to the U.S.—the first was held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
6. Easter Ham
Believe it or not, even that juicy ham on your dining room table dates back to pagan rituals honoring spring and the goddess Eostre. The tradition goes back to at least 6th-century Germany, according to Bruce Kraig, the founder of the Culinary Historians of Chicago. Hunters often slaughtered hogs in the forest in the fall, then left them to cure all winter. By spring, pork was one of the only meats ready to go for spring celebrations. As with other pagan rituals, Christianity adapted the tradition for its own needs as the religion spread.
7. Good Friday Kites
If you happen to find yourself in Bermuda on Good Friday, you may be surprised to see hordes of kites dotting the sky. According to local legend, a teacher once used a kite to give her students a visual of how Jesus ascended into heaven. The analogy quickly caught on, and today, flying a simple kite made of tissue paper and sticks is still a colorful pastime.
The German tradition of Osterbrunnen—decorating public wells and fountains with elaborate greenery and Easter egg décor—only began about a century ago. It’s said that German villagers wanted to honor both Easter and the gift of water, which also represents life and renewal. Neighboring villages began to compete to see which of them could create the most fanciful fountains, and by 1980, approximately 200 villages were participating in the event. It’s even spread stateside—the town of Frankenmuth, a Bavarian-style village in Michigan, has adopted the Osterbrunnen tradition in the month surrounding Easter.
Now that you know of a few new traditions, consider adding them to your traditions!
Source: “The Origins of 11 Easter Traditions” by Mental Floss