The History of Easter and Its Traditions

Written by Amy Britton

Whilst most people know and understand the religious background of Easter from their Religious Studies classes, a lot of people don’t know the background of other Easter traditions. Easter was a seemingly simple holiday before capitalism got its claws into it and, like most other holidays, began to sell over the top egg creations and fabricated stories about a bunny that hops around people’s gardens leaving chocolate goodies. Even the New England Puritans have argued that the holiday has become too polluted by non-Christian influence.  Where could such abstract ideas have manifested into one of the biggest holidays of the year?

Despite most people believing that Easter traditions began with Christianity, a lot of traditions that we associate with Easter actually date back to pre-Christian, pagan times. The word ‘Easter’ comes from Eostre or Eostrae, the goddess of spring and fertility, which links to present-day ideas about Easter representing a period of rebirth. Decorating eggs was also extremely popular in the medieval period due to their symbolism of new life. Other ancient cultures like Greeks and Egyptians had similar ideas surrounding the symbolism of eggs at Easter.

But the tradition of giving chocolates only became prevalent with the development of mass-producing sweets and chocolates during the middle of the 19th century. In Europe, chocolate companies began to create chocolates to match different holidays throughout the year, with impressive packaging and various themes. Whilst giving and receiving chocolate is always a great experience, should holidays that once had important meanings be overshadowed by the capitalistic traditions that we know and love today?

The origins of the Easter bunny are a little harder to pin down. Many historians have agreed that the Easter bunny must have come from Germany. Their tradition was spread across many countries and soon the ‘Osterhase’ became a popular folklore, specifically in the 1700s when German immigrants travelled to America and spread their belief. The Osterhase was said to be a hare that would lay eggs and children would create nests that the hare could lay its eggs in, which helped to solidify the popularity of Easter baskets. However, in some countries, they use different animals to represent spring like foxes or cuckoo birds. The imagery of the Easter bunny has allowed for the creation of Easter egg hunts that children and adults alike can enjoy. 

Hot cross buns are another famous tradition, especially in Britain. These spiced breads trace back to ancient societies in Rome, Greece and Egypt as a way to honour their goddesses and eventually travelled to England. Although, in the past, English bakers were forbidden to sell hot cross buns on any other day than special holidays like Good Friday. Whilst nowadays hot cross buns are bought mostly during the Easter period, you can purchase them all year round with companies baking absurd flavour combinations to trounce their competition.

Even though the origins of Easter come from various places, all over the world, Easter has become a commercialised holiday with shops everywhere selling cards, chocolate eggs and other related goods. Whether you agree with Easter’s changing meanings or not, everyone can enjoy it and I hope that all of our readers have a fun and safe holiday!

Featured images courtesy of Image license found here. No changes have been made to these images.

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