A magical bunny who visits houses in the dead of night and leaves pastel colored eggs hidden on your front lawn. The dying and decorating of Easter eggs. Parades and the donning of festive bonnets. Considering that Easter is a religious holiday, many of its customs seem decidedly secular., not to mention slightly random. Which begs the question: How did these and other customs become part of the Easter celebration? Here’s a closer look at four Easter traditions and their origins.
1. The Easter Bunny
It’s hardly surprising that his oversized, fluffy, anthropomorphic, candy-bearing cottontail claims the number one spot on this list. After all, the words “Easter” and “bunny” are inextricably intertwined. But seeing as how you won’t find the Easter Bunny in the Bible, where did this mythical mammal come from?
The answer is not as satisfying as you might think: No one knows. Rabbits have long been symbolic of springtime, rebirth, and renewal due to their reputation for rapid reproduction. Because of this, they and the egg alike — both symbols of fertility — were associated with the ancient pagan festival of Eostre.
Some historians also attribute the origins of the Easter Bunny to German immigrants. Explains History, “According to some sources, the Easter Bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Additionally, children often left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping.”
2. Easter Eggs
Like bunnies, eggs have symbolized fertility for thousands of years. The habit of decorating eggs during the spring equinox dates back just as long in the Middle East. So how did the tradition make its way to modern day culture?
Says Huffington Post, “For Christians, the Easter egg is symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Painting Easter eggs is an especially beloved tradition in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches where the eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on the cross. Easter eggs are blessed by the priest at the end of the Paschal vigil and distributed to the congregants. The hard shell of the egg represents the sealed Tomb of Christ, and cracking the shell represents Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Moreover, historically Christians would abstain from eating eggs and meat during Lent, and Easter was the first chance to eat eggs after a long period of abstinence.”
That covers the dying part. But what about the egg hunting and egg rolling? Continues Huffington Post, “Eggs are rolled as a symbolic re-enactment of the rolling away of the stone from Christ’s tomb.”
3. Easter Bonnets and the Easter Parade
If you love to put on a bright-colored, ribbon-festooned hat every year on Easter Sunday, you owe Irving Berlin a debt of gratitude for his hit song “Easter Parade,” and its lyrics: “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it/You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade./I’ll be all in clover and when they look you over,/I’ll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade.” According to TheJournal.ie, this famous song brought the Easter bonnet into popular culture based on the style of the time that found New York’s well-to-do women showing off their fancy hats at the annual Easter parade.
Wearing hats may be a rarity now, but they were once part of women’s daily wardrobe. Even before Berlin’s song referenced Easter bonnets, women looked forward to trading out their old hats for new ones for mass on Easter Sunday. Continues TheJournal.ie, “In post-Civil War America, women swapped their mourning veils for the bright hats. Nowadays, children often make such bonnets at school.”
And while the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving may have surpassed it in terms of their popularity, the Easter Parade was once the most elegant of all events. According to AXS, “New York City’s Easter Parade began circa 1870 and has been forever memorialized in celluloid as Irving Berlin’s 1948 musical starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford and Ann Miller when the event was at its peak. The informal, unorganized, non-denominational and unprompted Easter Parade was hugely popular, hence the movie, and in 1947 drew over one million people. However, its recognition has waned since the 50s, drawing 30,000 fans in 2008.”
4. Easter Foods
Turkey may be the undisputed food star of any Thanksgiving table, but it’s got a lot of competition come Easter, which — like Thanksgiving — also has a close association with special, celebratory foods.
Lamb and ham are two common Easter meals — the former for its representation as the “Lamb of God,” and the latter for its pagan association with good luck (not to mention its leftover potential). Meat is a special treat, in particular, for devout Catholics who may have chosen to abstain from it during Lent. That’s not to say turkey isn’t an option. In fact, this beloved bird is also a surprisingly popular choice for Easter dinner.
Another must-have for most Easter meals? Bread. Says The Food Timeline, “Bread has long played an important role in religious ceremonies and holidays. This is true in many cultures and cuisines. Holiday breads are often baked in symbolic shapes and include special ingredients. Easter breads often feature eggs, a commodity forbidden by the Catholic Church during lent.” Cakes and other special desserts also fall under this category.
And then there’s the candy and chocolate. As Katherine Tegen, the author of The Story of the Easter Bunny, told Real Simple, “The tradition of chocolate eggs began in 19th-century France and Germany and soon spread to the rest of Europe and eventually the United States. To receive the special Easter eggs, children were told to make nests from hats or baskets so the Easter Bunny could leave them there.” (Hence the origin of Easter baskets, as well.) Adding to chocolate’s Easter appeal? It’s perennial status as one of the top Lenten sacrifices.
Of course, pulling together everything from organizing egg hunts to shopping for the perfect Easter bonnet can be time-consuming, which is where gourmet mail order food comes in. Rather than spending hours planning and preparing the perfect Easter meal, why not order it from FoodyDirect’s extensive inventory of Easter foods and gifts instead? Sourced from the country’s best restaurants and purveyors of fine food, FoodyDirect has everything you need to put out a scrumptious Easter spread.
While winter usually claims the holiday spotlight due to December’s one-two punch of Christmas and Chanukah, spring is equally festive thanks to the celebratory combination of Easter and Passover.
To start planning a magnificent holiday meal today, shop events, including Easter and Passover, and much more at FoodyDirect.