Who invited the bunny, eggs, candy, lamb and lilies to Easter?
The word Easter does not appear in the Bible, and an Easter celebration is not mentioned, with one exception – in the King James version in Acts 12:4. This one reference can give you the idea that the holiday we have today to honor our risen Savior was observed during the time of the apostles, but that was not the case. Easter in this verse was simply a word translators used in place of Passover.
The word Easter was used in the Germanic languages to denote the festival of the vernal equinox (when the sun’s direct rays strike Earth’s equator before crossing into the Northern hemisphere), which takes place on the first day of spring in North America, Europe and Asia. With the coming of Christianity, it signifies the anniversary of the resurrection of Christ.
This special celebration of the resurrection at Easter is the oldest Christian festival. Specific observances of the festival developed over the centuries. Since the resurrection occurred at the time of the Jewish Passover, the first Jewish Christians probably transformed their Passover observance into a celebration of the central events of their new faith. In the early centuries the annual observance was called the pascha, the Greek word for Passover, and focused on Christ as the paschal (Passover) Lamb.
Many scholars maintain the earliest observance probably consisted of a vigil beginning on Saturday evening and ending on Sunday morning and included remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion as well as the resurrection. Evidence from shortly after a.d. 200 shows that the remembrance included the baptism of new Christians and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. By about a.d. 300 most churches divided the original observance, devoting Good Friday to the crucifixion and Easter Sunday to the resurrection.
Easter, is the Christian celebration of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So who invited a bunny to hop into the story?
The Bible makes no mention of a long-eared, short-tailed creature who delivers goodies in brightly colored baskets. However, this mythical mammal has become a prominent symbol of Easter by Christians and non-Christians alike. Rabbits, known to be prolific procreators, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life. Perhaps this representation of “new beginnings” explains its unusual presence in this holy season.
It all started with the bunny. The tradition of an Easter Bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Their children made nests for the rabbit to lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s nest was replaced with decorated white baskets.
The egg, like the rabbit, is also an ancient symbol of new life. From some Christian perspectives, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection. Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates to at least the 13th century. An explanation for this custom is that eggs were formerly a forbidden food during Lent. People painted and decorated them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting, and then consumed them on Easter as a celebration.
Easter egg hunts and egg rolling are two anticipated egg-related traditions. In the U.S., the White House Easter Egg Roll, a race in which children push decorated, hard-boiled eggs across the White House lawn, is an annual event held the Monday after Easter. The first egg roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. The event has no religious significance, although some have considered egg rolling symbolic of the stone blocking Jesus’ tomb being rolled away.
Why the candy?
Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday. Among the most popular sweet treats associated with this day are chocolate eggs, which date back to early 19th century Europe. Many Easter themed candies are egg shaped, once again symbolic to the rolling away of the stone.
Lamb is a traditional Easter food. Christians refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” though lamb at Easter also has roots in early Passover celebrations. In Exodus, the people of Egypt suffered a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons. Members of the Jewish faith painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb’s blood so that death would “pass over” their homes. Jews who converted to Christianity continued the tradition of eating lamb at Easter.
Although lamb is still the main course in many parts of the world, the custom of eating lamb at Easter in the United States decreased at the end of World War II, when the demand for wool declined, creating a shortage of lamb. Ham replaced lamb on many tables because it was practical and more affordable. A farmer could preserve a ham throughout winter, and it was ready to eat in the spring.
The white lilies of Easter
These beautiful flowers symbolize the purity of Christ and are frequent decorations in churches and homes around the Easter holiday. Their growth from dormant bulbs in the ground to blossoming flowers symbolizes the rebirth and hope of Christ’s resurrection. Lilies are native to Japan. They were brought to England in 1777, and to the U.S. during WW ll. They became the unofficial flower of Easter celebrations across the United States.
Over the centuries, multiple customs and traditions have been added to Easter – passed from generation to generation, acknowledging and celebrating this most holy season.
Embracing customs or excluding them at Easter is a personal choice. Choosing to recognize traditions opens the door to beautiful memories for families to share, reminding us of the rebirth and hope we have in Christ. They are not meant to replace the significance of the sacrificial gift Jesus gave that we may know Him and experience relationship with the Father.
Read the second post in this blog series: