The world is preparing to celebrate this Sunday the most important day of Christianity: Easter.
The Christian holiday commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ after he was crucified by the Romans on Good Friday over 2,000 years ago. Easter Sunday falls on a different day each year as it is based on the dates of the vernal equinox and the first spring moon cycle, which usually occurs between March 21 and April 25.
What comes to mind when you think of Easter? Modern traditions of the holiday are associated with Easter eggs, the Easter bunny, sweets and chocolate. But where do these traditions come from?
What is the origin of the Easter egg tradition?
Easter eggs are believed to have originated in medieval Europe, but may have no connection to Christian tradition. Some historians believe Easter eggs came from Anglo-Saxon festivals in the spring to celebrate the pagan goddess Eostre.
The goddess, who may be Easter’s namesake, represented dawn in spring, and eggs were buried and eaten during the festival. Eggs are considered a symbol of fertility and the rebirth of nature after the death of winter.
Many pagan traditions of the Feast of Eostre have been adopted by Christian missionaries to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, as a way to encourage conversion.
Easter eggs are often said to be related to celebration because they represent new life, although the metaphor could have been applied retroactively.
An alternative origin links Easter eggs to fasting during Lent, when animal products could not be eaten. The eggs may have been hard-boiled and stored and then eaten at the end of Lent to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
Why color Easter eggs?
The tradition of dyed and decorated eggs dates back to the 13th century when nobles exchanged them as gifts. English villagers also frequently donated eggs to their church on Good Friday.
Through the religious perspective, another source argues that in Mesopotamia, early Christians dyed eggs red to mimic the blood that Jesus shed during his crucifixion.
However, the tradition of egg dyeing originated at least 2,500 years ago in the Trypillian culture that lived in central Europe. Historians believe that the ancient Persians, or Zoroastrians, painted eggs for Nowruz, or Persian New Year.
In the 12th century, King Edward I of England ordered 450 eggs to be colored and decorated with gold leaf to be given to the royal relatives during the spring season. The tradition continued a few years later when the Vatican sent Henry VIII an egg in a silver case to mark the Easter period.
An Australian zoo celebrates Easter by decorating animal exhibits and welcoming guests to join in the festivities!
How has the Easter egg hunt evolved throughout history?
The tradition of Easter egg hunts and egg donations to children originated in Germany in the 17th century.
As a child, Queen Victoria loved egg hunts organized by her German mother and helped popularize the tradition in Britain. Artificial eggs containing toys and treats began to supplant real eggs in Victorian England.
European candy makers also began making egg-shaped chocolates and candies for Easter in the 19th century.
Egg rolling also became a popular activity for children, and the White House held its first Easter egg roll in 1878 under President Rutherford Hayes.
Even though the event has no religious significance, some have considered the egg rolling to symbolize the stone blocking Jesus’ tomb being rolled away, leading to his resurrection.
How does the Easter bunny fit into the egg tradition?
The exact origin of the Easter Bunny remains unclear.
The tradition may have come to the United States in the 17th century with German migrants who settled in Pennsylvania, adopted from the German tradition of a laying hare called Ostergase or Oschter Haws.
The custom eventually spread across the country, with the rabbit handing out treats and gifts from decorated baskets.