Though Easter is commonly associated in the United States as a secular holiday of decorated eggs and chocolate rabbits, its meaning and significance around the world greatly vary. This day of celebration has been rooted in a variety of human cultures as early as the second century; it is thought to be descended from an ancient pagan festival which celebrated the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of fertility and spring, Eostre. Legend has it that the Goddess Eostre consorted with a hare and some scholars believe this fable serves as history’s first reference to rabbits during this springtime holiday.
Many years later Easter is now well known for representing Christianity’s most important holiday, commemorating Jesus’s resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. In a forty day period before Easter Sunday named “Lent,” Christians will sacrifice something in honor of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for his people. In Judaism, the celebration of Passover occurs around the same time of year as Easter. During this time, Jews gather to pay homage to the Israelites’ flight from slavery in Egypt. The highlight of Passover is the Seder, observed on each of the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen-step family-oriented tradition and ritual-packed feast. Although eggs are a part of the traditional Seder feast, their significance is quite different from the Easter egg.
Eggs became a world-wide Easter tradition largely due to the Christian church banning certain foods (such as eggs) during Lent, the 40 day religious season of sacrifice which precedes Easter Sunday. After going over a month without eating eggs it became a special treat to enjoy them on Easter. This excitement for eggs fed one of Easter’s oldest and most extravagant traditions, Easter egg decorating. Though at first eggs were only decorated by dye, Russian Royalty and high society of the 19th century took this activity to the next level and crafted jewel-encrusted eggs as Easter gifts!
Over the years separate cultures have added their own twist onto this diverse holiday, presenting several interesting differences in their respective Easter traditions. For example in Switzerland the Easter bunny is replaced with a Cuckoo who flies around and delivers eggs, while in varying parts of Germany it is thought that a fox, rooster or stork would do the job.
Nowadays many celebrate Easter simply for the fun of it. With only Halloween having greater candy sales, every Easter over 90 million chocolate bunnies and 16 billion jellybeans are consumed all over the world. From its ancient religious implications to its popular customs, Easter has become one of the world’s most widely celebrated holidays!
Happy Easter! – OIA Bloggers