Traditions

Founding fathers (and mothers?) of Easter

In North America, we love to celebrate Easter with a visit from the Easter Bunny, an Easter Parade or an egg hunt. We love to see the children’s faces when they spot their Easter baskets and when they take the first bite from the chocolate bunny’s ears. But we don’t often think of the history that has sparked these festivities and other Easter traditions across the world.

The history of Easter is actually quite diverse - while Christians may think that the celebration originated with the death of Jesus, it actually goes back much further, when it was the celebration of Eastre, the Pagan goddess of the early spring. Many of the symbols and rites of Easter were transferred from Pagan practice to Christian practice, as Pagans converted to Christianity after Jesus’ death.

Some Pagans didn’t make the change, however, and continued to worship as they always had. At the same time, Christians clashed over how to practice their religion, resulting in a split - after which Eastern European Christians chose to celebrate Easter differently than Western European Christians.

In particular, each group used different methods to appoint the date of Easter, which meant the two groups did not even celebrate the holiday on the same day. They had no such controversy over Christmas, because that event was considered secondary in comparison to the resurrection of Jesus.

Both groups adopted the Easter symbols established by the Pagans - the hare and the egg, goddess Eastre’s symbols of fertility and new life, were slightly modified for the transition into Christianity. Over time, the hare became the Easter Bunny and the Easter egg came to symbolize new life (the edible egg) from death (the inanimate shell).

As time passed, Easter practices evolved into the celebration we recognize today, complete with the Easter Bunny and the Easter egg hunt. But Easter in the United States is still celebrated differently by different cultures, and each is rife with meaning. From pre-Lenten celebrations in New Orleans to post-Easter egg rolls at the White House, this holiday is anticipated and loved for its diverse traditions. Regardless of how, the fact this springtime holiday is celebrated all over the world is, in itself, cause for celebration.