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EASTER HISTORY, ORIGINS, TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS

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History and Origin of the Easter Holiday and its Celebrations

 

The religious holiday of Easter is the greatest feast day of the year to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is a day of sadness (for the death of Christ on the Cross) and happiness (for the resurrection of Jesus). However, the holiday has become very secularized over the past century.

 

Before Christ was even born, holidays for the rights of spring and fertility were celebrated around the vernal equinox.  These holidays may have influenced the modern celebration and traditions (and name).  The Scandinavians celebrated “Ostra.” Germanic countries celebrated a feast for the mythological goddess of fertility “Ostern,” and the Saxons celebrated the goddess of spring and fertility named “Eastre.” (which is probably where the common derivation of the name originated). The symbols of these holidays included the rabbit (for fertility) and the egg (for fertility, and when painted in bright colors, denotes springtime).

When the Christians came to northern Europe, many missionaries wanted to convert the pagan inhabitance to the religion of Jesus Christ (probably beginning in the second century AD).  In order to help with the transition, the missionaries took part of the native cultures and incorporated them into the Christian celebration.  They would take celebrations that occurred during the same time of year (the resurrection of Christ occurred about the same time as the pagan rites of spring celebrations). For instance, the celebrations discussed above were modified and into civilized rituals so that conversion would be made easier for both the missionaries and those being converted.  Some of these ancient rituals took new forms, but its symbols like the egg and the bunny are still in existence today.

 

Another influence on the holiday is the Jewish holiday of Passover (or Pesach), which occurs around the same date.  The last supper of Jesus Christ may have been a Passover Seder.  In fact some European countries refer to Easter as Pesach. [FYI: See our Passover page for additional information].

 

Easter marks the end of the forty days [or more] days of Lent.  Lent is the time in a Christians life where they observe a period of penitence before the observation of Easter. Holy week is the last week of Lent that leads up to Easter.

 

The Days of Holy Week

Palm Sunday – The day when Jesus returned to Jerusalem (on a donkey) and followers placed palms at his feast.

Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) – The day of the last supper and his arrest.

Good Friday – The day that Christ was crucified and died on the cross.
Easter – The day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

History, Traditions and Origin of the Easter Eggs

The egg has been associated with the celebration of this holiday since its early days.  In order to help transition early non-Christians into the faith, they allowed aspects of pagan holidays to be brought into the celebration of Christian holidays.  The resurrection of Christ occurred at the same time of many of these pagan springtime rituals.  The egg was used as a symbol of fertility, but was also painted in bright colors to symbolize the sunshine of the spring. [In a religious context an egg could also symbolize the birth (resurrection) of Jesus Christ).

Another reason eggs became part of the Easter tradition was because some Christians observed the period of Lent by not eating any eggs. The end of lent meant an end to this

 

In early celebrations, the eggs were given as gifts, or used in egg rolling contests.  Lovers eventually got into the tradition and exchanged beautifully decorated eggs to each other. They were also give to servants during medieval times to celebrate the holiday.

 

The customary giving of Easter Eggs differs from country to country.  In some countries, red eggs are given to represent the blood of Christ (e.g., Greece).  Gold and silver eggs are usually given in Albania and surrounding countries.  In Poland, they make complex and beautiful designs on their eggs using bee wax and are called pysanki eggs. In Germany and Austria, eggs are not given on Easter, but colored green and given on Holy Thursday instead. However, some Germans will use eggs that have been hollowed out and color the eggshells. Armenians have a similar tradition, where the hollowed out eggshells are painted with religious pictures.

 

Easter Eggs are also a part of the fun of the holiday.  Easter egg activities include: (1) The painting of the eggs – and having contests for the best design, brightest colors, etc.; (2) Easter Egg hunts, where adults can hide Easter Eggs and the children could try to find them.  The child with the most eggs wins.; and (3) Easter Egg rolling, where a participant can roll their egg down a hill without having it break.

The most famous eggs are the Faberge Eggs which are decorated in gold and adorned with jewels and other gems.  The Faberge Eggs were first produced as gifts to the Russian royal family.

 

Traditions, History and Origin of the Easter Bunny / Easter Rabbit

The rabbit (hare or bunny) has been brought into the Christian celebration of Easter the same as the Easter Egg (see above), it was a pagan ritual (the rabbit symbolizes fertility in celebrating the coming of the spring)  and has transformed its way into the holiday celebration.  However, the modern idea of the Easter bunny possibly had its roots in Europe around the 15th or 16th century (possibly Germany, since the first chocolate bunnies were made in Germany in the early 19th century as a brilliant advertising campaign to sell more chocolate during this time of year.)

 

120x240_easGerman immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania Dutch) first introduced the idea of the Easter Bunny in the United States in the 18th century.  They began to tell children stories about the “Oschter Haws,” a large rabbit that would bring gifts to the good children on Easter – the gifts were usually colored eggs.  To prepare for the Oschter Haws, children would build nests for the bunny to lay its eggs.  The boys and girls would use their hats and bonnets as the foundation of these nests. [This became the foundation for another Easter custom, the Easter Basket.] 

In Australia, where an overabundance of rabbits are destroying farms, they have adopted the Easter Bilby in lieu of the rabbit/bunny. [A bilby is a native animal of Australia. It has big ears, big eyes and a long tail. the bilby is also on the list of endangered animals.]

 

The Date of Easter

Between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and 325 AD, the celebration of Easter occurred on different days of the week.  In 325, Emperor Constantine of Rome, through the Council of Nicaea, determined in the “Easter Rule” that Easter should be celebrated each year on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the vernal equinox, with a few exceptions (for a complete analysis of how the date is determined, see the U.S. Navy web page on the date of Easter at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/easter.html). [Note: This council also determined at the same time that the Cross was to be the symbol of Christianity (for Roman Catholics)]. The council determined the date using the Julian Calendar (devised under Julius Cesar).  In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII (of the Roman Catholic Church) changed around the Julian Calendar (e.g., adding a leap year), creating the Gregorian Calendar.  Over the next century, a division was created by different countries as to which calendar to follow.  Western Europe had adopted the new Gregorian Calendar, while Eastern Europe maintained the older Julian Calendar. Even today, the Eastern Orthodox Christians use the Julian Calendar to determine the date of celebration of Easter and other holidays (although there is still some modifications by one or more sects).

 

Upcoming Easter Dates (Gregorian Calendar)

2005 March 27

2006 April 16

2007 April 8

2008 March 23

2009 April 12

2010 April 4

2011 April 24

2012 April 8

2013 March 31

2014 April 20

2015 April 5

2016 March 27

2017 April 16

2018 April 1

2019 April 21

2020 April 12

2021 April 4

2022 April 17

2023 April 9

2024 March 31

 

Risus Paschalis (the Easter Laughter)

This is a Bavarian custom where a priest would include funny stories in their sermons in order to elicit a laugh from the congregation. However, bishops have tried to stop this practice throughout the years.

 

Playing Handball on Easter

It became a tradition for those in the priesthood to play handball, which was a symbol for the sun. However, this means of celebration died out by the 15th century.

 

The Tradition of the Easter Fire

A fire is lit on Easter morning that is created by the friction of two sticks rubbing together.  This is another custom that has been modified from its pagan roots.  The fire symbolizes the defeat of winter by the spring.  This tradition is becoming popular again in parts of Europe.

 

Ringing of the Church Bells on Easter

In Russia, the priesthood allows anyone to go up to the belfries and ring the church's bells on Easter Day. In France and Italy, the church bells are not rung on Holy Thursday. Their is an ancient custom of being silent before the spring equinox feast, which this may have its roots.

 

Traditions and Origins of Easter Baskets

The modern Easter Basket originates from two separate ideas.  First, there was a traditional blessing of the priests over the food for the Easter feast.  People would bring their food in beautifully decorated baskets to the priest for a blessing. The second idea comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch folklore of the Oschter Haws, an egg laying bunny (see above).  The children would make decorated nests for the bunny - which eventually became baskets.  Taking these two old traditions together, we have the modern Easter Basket.

 

Traditions and Origins of Easter Bonnets

This is a recent custom that has become a holiday tradition.  It may have become popular following Irving Berlin's song "Easter Parade" put them in vogue. Although a whole new outfit (of bright springtime colors) for Easter has become the popular in celebrating the holiday. Emperor Contantine had also decreed that all citizens should wear their best clothing to observe Easter Sunday - which might be the origin of this tradition.

 

Traditions, History and Origins of the Easter Parade

The Easter Parade has become a tradition in many cities to celebrate the Easter holiday. Easter parades have been a tradition for many years dating back to the time of Emperor Constantine (early 4th century AD). The first public Easter Parade occurred in the United States in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1860, where people paraded around the boardwalk with their best Easter Clothing.  The largest and most widely known Easter Parade is the annual parade in New York City along Fifth Avenue.

 

GIFT IDEAS FOR EASTER

The traditional gift for Easter, as explained above, is to give or exchange decorated eggs.  However, over the years, there have been other items that have become customary to give.  We have listed a few of these items below.  You can read how some of the traditional Easter gifts originated in the above section.

 

Easter Gift Ideas:

  • Easter Eggs

    • Decorated Eggs

    • Faberge Eggs

    • Egg Decoration Kit

  • Chocolate Bunnies and Candies

  • Easter Bonnet or a whole new wardrobe for Easter Sunday

  • Easter Basket full of Gifts

  • Religious items

  • Flowers

  • General Easter related gifts

To purchase these gifts online CLICK HERE

WEBSITE LINKS TO ONLINE RESOURCES ABOUT EASTER

Easter Facts, Origins and History

Easter Activities

  • Happy-Easter.com (HappyEaster.com): “Our egg-citing new site is packed full of cracking good ideas for the holiday season so roll up, roll up to join in the fun. “

  • Easter (KidzDomain.com): Easter Ecards, Pictures to color, graphics, crafts, party activities, puzzles, games and much more.

  • Easter Fun (PrimaryGames.com): “Coloring pages and stationary to print from PrimaryGames.com.  Play fun games and check out the fun links page.”

Recipes for Easter

Easter Island

Easter Symbols and Traditions

Origins, History and Symbolism of Easter Eggs

Origins, History and Symbolism of the Easter Bunny

SUGGESTED GIFTS FOR EASTER FROM OUR AFFILIATES

Easter Related Gifts

Hoppy Easter Custom Frame

Faberge Spring Egg Basket (Franklin Mint)

Easter Gifts for Children

My First Easter Custom Photo Frame

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The Very First Easter icon

Ears To You BIB

Religious Easter Gifts

The Catholic Children's Bible

Flowers and Gift Baskets for Easter

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Easter Bunny Gift Basket

Peace Plant

Easter Bunny Wishes

Cookies and Bunny Easter Basket

Hippity Hoppity

The Bunny Hop

Hoppy Easter

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Other Easter Gifts

Clothing and Accessories for Easter

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Easter Travel

Travel/holiday

Easter Books

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Easter Parade icon

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Easter Bunny That Overslept icon

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The Very First Easter icon

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The Easter Story icon

   

   

EASTER GIFT SUGGESTIONS FROM THE http://www.giftwarehouseplus.com/ ONLINE GIFT STORE

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Last modified: March 20, 2012

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