While Easter is a Christian celebration, there’s no story in the Bible about a long-eared, hopping creature called the Easter Bunny. Neither is there any mention of children decorating eggs or hunting for chocolate eggs and other treats.
And real rabbits don’t lay eggs either.
So if none of these traditions has anything to do with the resurrection of Jesus, why are they woven into Easter Sunday celebrations? Most of these customs are rooted in pagan traditions.
Here are a few interesting facts about the origins of some popular Easter traditions, activities and treats.
The Easter Bunny
The origin of the Easter Bunny (who brings Easter eggs to children) — can be traced back to pre-Christian Germany, when people worshipped multiple gods and goddesses. Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honour at Spring time. Her symbol was the hare because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.
The first Easter Bunny legend was documented in the 1500s. By 1680, a story about a rabbit laying eggs and hiding them in a garden was published in Germany. These tales were brought to the United States in the 18th century, when German immigrants settled there.
The tradition of making nests for the rabbit to lay its eggs in soon followed. Eventually, nests became decorated baskets and painted eggs were swapped for chocolates ones, sweets and other small gifts.
And so the tradition of the Easter rabbit, or bunny was born.
Chocolate Easter eggs
Eggs are an ancient symbol of fertility and rebirth and they have always been associated with spring. Christians used them as a visual symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. In the UK and Europe people used duck, hen or goose eggs painted in bright colours to echo the vibrancy of the colours of spring after the darkness of winter.
These were later replaced by artificial eggs. In the early 19th century, chocolate became more widely available and the first chocolate eggs started to appear. The custom of giving chocolate eggs at Easter spread right across the globe so that by the end of the 1800s chocolate eggs had become a traditional Easter offering.
In the United States, the Easter Egg Roll is an annual event held for children on the White House lawn on Easter Monday.
It is popular this side of the Atlantic too and rolling decorated eggs down hills is known as pace egging. This Easter Monday tradition goes back hundreds of years. Pagans used it as a way to bring new life to the land at springtime while for Christians egg rolling could have represented the stone being rolled away from Jesus’s tomb.
Hot cross buns
Although now associated with Christianity, eating hot cross buns on Good Friday is also rooted in pagan tradition. Saxons ate buns marked with a cross during their spring celebrations – it’s believed that the bun represented the moon and the cross the moon’s quarters. Christians carried on with the customs but used the cross to symbolise Jesus’s crucifixion.
Simnel cake is a traditional fruit cake eaten at Easter in the UK and Ireland. It has a layer of marzipan on top and is decorated with marzipan balls – these symbolise the disciples, though Judas is left out and only 11 balls are put on top of the cake.
Coloured / decorated eggs
Dyeing and decorating eggs is also a popular Easter activity. Painted eggs used to be given as gifts and the tradition dates back to the Middle Ages when people would paint eggs in bright colours to welcome spring. The tradition has carried on although it can vary from country to country. In Germany eggs are painted green while in Greece and the Balkans eggs are dyed red to symbolise the blood of Christ.
But the most elaborate take on the tradition comes from French jeweller Fabergé who started making miniature eggs decorated with jewels. Worn on neck chains, these were popular Easter gifts in the late 1800s, early 1900s.
The larger and more famous eggs were commissioned by Russian aristocrats. Made of precious metals or hard stones and decorated with combinations of enamel and gem stones these are known as Imperial Fabergé eggs. The Fabergé egg has become a symbol of luxury, and the eggs are regarded as masterpieces of jewellery.