Yesterday was Easter Sunday. We enjoyed the day and a great meal with close friends. About a week ago, I was talking with a group of people about how certain characters came to represent religious holidays. Santa and Christmas is the most popular one, but what about the Easter Bunny and Easter? He and Santa are both looked to as the judges of whether or not kids have behaved over a period of time. For Christmas, whether they are naughty or nice determines whether they receive gifts on December 25th. For Easter, it is based on whether the kids have been good leading up to Easter Sunday, to determine whether they get baskets with goodies and colored eggs in them or not.
Now let’s talk about the holiday’s religious history and how the traditions came into the story. According to Wikipedia, Eastertide is the season that focuses on the resurrection of Jesus and it begins on Easter Sunday. There are symbols that have carried through the years and things are celebrated the same way even today.
- Sunrise Service – Is a service held outside at sunrise to recognize the moment that Jesus was no longer in the tomb when dawn broke on Easter morning. The service allows the congregation to share the sunrise with each other in honor of that significant event.
- Easter eggs – symbol of the tomb that Jesus rose from
- Easter lily – symbol of the resurrection or rebirth
Like Santa, the Easter Bunny also has some folklore attached to it. Why a rabbit? Well, people at that time thought that rabbits were able to reproduce without losing their virginity. They associated that idea of fertility with the Virgin Mary, who was also said to have given birth without losing her virginity. Eggs have also been seen as symbols of fertility since for most animals, they play a role in how life begins. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits usually have large litters of bunnies, they both became known as symbols of rising fertility and rebirth.
Back in the earlier years, churches had their congregations abstain from eating eggs during their observance of lent. What would they do with eggs laid during that time then? They would preserve them by either boiling or roasting and would eat them when they broke the fast after lent was over. These eggs were decorated as part of the celebration of Eastertide and were put into the bonnets and hats of the children to celebrate the coming holiday. This was the foundation of our current tradition of coloring hard boiled eggs for Easter baskets.
Many of the traditions associated with Easter were brought to the United States by German Settlers in the 1800s. The Easter Hare or Spring Bunny would bring baskets with colored eggs, candy and toys for all of the kids that were deemed to have been good. Over time, the baskets would be hidden and kids would have to find them in the morning, leading to the tradition of Easter Egg hunts.
Growing up, I didn’t have a very strong religious background. My parents were both brought up Catholic and we didn’t go to church every Sunday. So when it came to the rituals of the holidays, we did the mainstream ones, but not the ones you would typically do as a member of a church. I have many fond memories of Easter as a kid. We received the traditional Easter baskets and candy and would always get a new outfit to wear for the day. New clothes at Easter was another tradition to celebrate rebirth. Easter afternoon we would have dinner at one of our relatives houses and I would be able to play with my cousins. But, I probably didn’t know where all of the traditions of the holiday actually came from.
When you live in a part of the country that has a definite winter, Easter and the coming of spring is kind of exciting. I love the rebirth theme of spring and the fun pastel colors that are seen on all of the Easter supplies and decorations. How about the plastic Easter grass that would come in the baskets? I remember that stuff ending up all over the house and showing up the following fall. And coloring Easter eggs was always one of my favorite things to do. The colored tablets had to be mixed with the vinegar to make the egg coloring solution to dip them in. Through this tradition, I remember smelling vinegar for the first time.
I do like snow for Christmas, but I smile when it melts. I know that spring is on its way when the green grass and flowers start coming up through the ground. Daisies, daffodils, and tulips are some flowers that remind me of spring the most. I remember doing a fund raiser in school when we sold daffodils for cancer. Daffodils are seen as a sign of hope and life. I checked on The American Cancer Society website and they still do this. They now call it The Daffodils Hope by the Bunch campaign. The timing coincides with the coming of spring and March being colorectal cancer awareness month. When it came to the flowers, I also remember my Dad bringing home an Easter Lily for my Mom to have in the house for the holiday.
How about the song composed by Irving Berlin, Easter Parade? Not only do I remember the lyrics, but we also played it in my high school concert band. The song is about a woman in her Easter bonnet going to the Easter Parade. Wearing an Easter bonnet (or hat) was another example of the new clothes tradition on Easter. For a woman to be able to wear a new or even refurbished Easter Bonnet during the Great Depression was seen as a luxury. On Facebook today, I saw pictures of friends or their kids wearing some fun hats to continue this tradition.
The stories of how traditions originated have always intrigued me. Why it is the Easter Bunny and not the Easter Puppy? Or why do we color an egg and not a shirt? Some of the history of these traditions could have been lost by someone who is not a part of a church. I appreciate that my parents kept these traditions going for us and that we are able to hand them down to our kids. The religious foundations for the holidays are important, but aren’t always specific to a certain religion. I’m kind of glad. That way everyone can enjoy them and add their own traditions to make the holiday special.