What do you think of when you think of Easter? The beginning of spring? Bunnies? Chocolate eggs in brightly coloured foil? You would be forgiven if these were the thoughts that came to mind; these are all large parts of how Easter is celebrated in the modern day. How the holiday got to this stage in its life is a strange and often difficult route to trace.
In trying to trace the origins of its modern look, it is easiest to go back to the beginning. Easter is a Christian holiday, celebrated after the 40-day Lent, which remembers the rebirth of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. Easter is usually preceded by a Holy Week that commemorates all the events that led to the crucifixion and his subsequent return to life. The first recorded celebration of Easter was in the 2nd century, though there is evidence to suggest that it was being commemorated before that.
Easter is not celebrated at one universal time. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses a different calendar, which led to a different calculation when they were deciding when to celebrate Easter. This means that Eastern Orthodox Church usually celebrates the holiday later than the Protestant or Roman Catholic Churches do. Across all Christian religions, celebrations of Easter involve a religious observance of some kind, whether that be a mass, a vigil or something similar.
Like many Christian holidays, pagan and/or folk traditions were also absorbed into the celebration of Easter. Many of these celebrations surrounded the egg. Painted eggs first recorded in the 13th century; they were decorated to distinguish them as Holy Week eggs, as the Church forbade its disciples from eating eggs during that week. The first Easter egg hunts that became popular among children were recorded in the 19th century in the United States. The tradition of exchanging chocolate eggs instead of real chicken eggs is believed to have begun in the 19th century as well, in Germany and France.
Where the Easter bunny comes into the equation is still a bit of a mystery. Some have suggested that the bunny symbolised new beginnings or new life in the pagan traditions of spring that Christians adopted, and this meaning made it a good representation for the rebirth of Jesus Christ. One further theory suggests that the bunny tradition began in Renaissance-age Germany and was popularised in the United States when Europeans immigrated there after the Civil War. Some countries do not have an Easter bunny either – instead, a fox or a cuckoo bird delivers eggs to the children. In the end, the point in which the bunny – or any other animal – hopped onto the Easter bandwagon remains unknown.
Whether or not we know where he comes from, we will still be happy to see a delivery of chocolate eggs from him. If you celebrate it, I hope you had a happy Easter!