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The History of Easter

brightly colored Easter eggs gathered in bowl lined with colorful spring napkin
Like Christmas, Easter has roots in both Christianity and ancient pagan culture. Though it is mostly considered a religious holiday, many of our modern traditions are rooted in pre-Christian practices.

The Origin of Easter

Easter actually originated as an ancient pagan celebration of the spring equinox. In Christianity, the day was dedicated to observing the resurrection of Jesus Christ, celebrated around the time of the Jewish Passover. As the Gospel of Christ spread, early Christians who did not participate in Jewish customs eventually merged their ceremonies with the pagan spring festival, recognizing Easter as "resurrection day.”

Modern Easter Traditions

Today’s Easter traditions come from a blend of Christian themes and ancient pagan celebrations, though we tend to see more of the latter. Easter decorations such as eggs, bunnies, and sweets are all pre-Christian spring symbols.

Easter Eggs

traditional pysanski decorated Easter eggs dyed red
One of the most recognizable symbols associated with Easter is the Easter egg. This symbol goes back to the Ancient Babylonians. They believed an egg fell from heaven into the Euphrates River, and "hatched" the goddess of fertility, Astarte (also known as Ashtur, Ishtar, and, yes, Easter). Pagans exchanged eggs as gifts during their springtime festival. Today, eggs are painted in bright colors and used in the ever-popular Easter egg hunt, where they are hidden for children to find and collect.

The Easter Bunny

closeup of foil wrapped Easter bunny surrounded by pastel Easter candies
Another popular Easter symbol is the Easter Bunny. Like eggs, rabbits represent the spring season and fertility. The Easter Rabbit tradition originated in the pagan festival of Eostre, represented by a northern goddess who was associated with the rabbit and hare. The modern Easter Bunny brings eggs and treats for children to enjoy every Easter.

The White Lily

close up of white Easter lily
The white lily is so connected with the holiday that it is sometimes known as the Easter lily. Lilies are associated with purity and resurrection. One legend says lilies grew in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ prayed the night before his death. Spring flowers like daffodils, crocus, hyacinth and tulips also are associated with Easter.

Other Symbolism

Large wooden cross silhouetted against a pink and purple sunrise

Other symbols for the Easter holiday season include crosses and crucifixes as a direct connection to religious teachings, chickens and chicks as a spring message of rebirth, and palm branches which are significant for both spring and Christianity.

Like Christmas, Easter is a great occasion for decorating your home and sharing a meal with close friends and family.

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