Easter: Christian tradition and pagan rites of spring

While Easter is celebrated by Christians around the world, many of the traditions are directly related to the pagan celebration of spring.

Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of the Oschter haws, or Easter bunny Image: CCO License www.gratisography.com for https://www.pexels.com/

DELRAY BEACH, Fla., March 25, 2016 — Spring and Easter bring flowers and chocolates and the celebration of Christ’s rebirth to Christians around the world. However, while many Easter traditions stem directly from Christian symbolism, dealing with Christ and the resurrection, others come from pagan rites of spring.

For Christians, Easter celebrates both the day Jesus rose from the dead and the end of the fast of Lent. Renewal and rebirth are major themes of Easter, and many traditions began before the birth of Christ.

The prominence of the egg is a symbol of that rebirth. Likewise, the tradition of eating lamb on Easter probably comes from the availability of the first lamb of the season, which historically came to market around the time of Easter.

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A lamb is a lucky omen. Centuries ago, people believed the devil could take the form of any animal except a lamb. The devil could not transform into a lamb because of its religious symbolism.

Eggs, symbols of rebirth and rejuvenation, historically were associated with spring. Their association with Easter likely came from this affiliation. Additionally, early Christians were not allowed to eat eggs during Lent, so the end of Lent was celebrated by eating eggs.

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Decorating Eggs: Available under CCO licenses https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-painting-easter-egg-5147/

Eggs were decorated and exchanged as gifts before the birth of Christ, as early as 5000 BC.

In China, children have received red eggs on their birthdays for thousands of years, and Persians have also exchanged decorated eggs as gifts.

Central Europeans have a very long history of decorating Easter eggs, and two of the most elaborately decorated versions are Russian Faberge eggs and Ukrainian pysanky.

In early history, eggs were part of spring festivals and were considered proof of the renewal of life.

In the former Yugoslavia, Easter eggs have the initials “XV” on them, meaning Christ is risen. Under the tsars, Russian Easters were elaborate celebrations, far more important than Christmas. Germans remove the insides of the eggs and decorate only the shells, which they then hang on trees.

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The Easter bunny does not seem to have any particular relationship to Christianity. Historically, it symbolized the arrival of spring. Rabbits are notoriously fertile, and spring is a time of fertility.

Americans began celebrating the Easter bunny around the 19th century, when the Pennsylvania Dutch continued the tradition of the Oschter haws, or Easter hare, who delivers eggs to good children. The tradition expanded rapidly, first throughout Pennsylvania and then to the entire United States.

Easter Eggs: CCO License https://www.pexels.com/photo/easter-eggs-5149/
Easter Eggs: CCO License https://www.pexels.com/photo/easter-eggs-5149/

The addition of the Easter egg hunts comes from the historic belief that finding eggs is lucky and will bring riches.

The association between candy and Easter appears to be relatively new, occurring in the 19th century. The introduction of factories and widespread availability of candy at that time likely contributed to this tradition. The famous marshmallow Peeps were introduced in 1953.

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Lisa M. Ruth
Lisa M. Ruth is Editor-in-Chief of CDN. In addition to her editing and leadership duties, she also writes on international events, intelligence, and other topics. She has worked with CDN as a journalist since 2009. Lisa is also President of CTC International Group, Inc., a research and analysis firm in South Florida, providing actionable intelligence to decisionmakers. She started her career at the CIA, where she won several distinguished awards for her service. She holds an MA in international relations from the University of Virginia, and a BA in international relations from George Mason University. She also serves as Chairman of the Board of Horses Healing Hearts, and is involved with several other charitable organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and AYSO.