How bunnies, eggs became part of the Christian holiday


Easter today walks that fine line between religious holiday and secular celebration, but it began as neither. The word is derived from Eostre, the goddess of spring honored by pagans every April.

How bunnies, eggs became part of the Christian holiday


Easter today walks that fine line between religious holiday and secular celebration, but it began as neither. The word is derived from Eostre, the goddess of spring honored by pagans every April. Christian missionaries are thought to have linked the two celebrations as a means of converting northern Europeans in the second century, St. Bede wrote in the late 600s. Here is the history of symbols we associate with Easter:


 


Easter eggs


There are two reasons eggs have become associated with Easter, according to www.infoplease.com. One is that they’ve always been symbols of life and fertility in ancient cultures, and often played a prominent role in pagan spring festivals. The other is that consumption of eggs was forbidden during Lent in 13th century Europe. Eggs that were laid during this period were boiled or preserved, decorated, and either given to children and servants as gifts or used for the Easter meal, www.foodtimeline.org says. Orthodox Christians sometimes paint eggs a bright red to represent the blood of Christ; some Germans give green eggs as Holy Thursday gifts and use hollowed-out eggs to decorate trees, www.infoplease.com says.


 


Easter bunny


Rabbits were an ancient symbol of fertility and new life thanks to their procreation habits, but they have no tie the religious celebration of Easter, according to www.history.com, the History Channel’s Web page. It’s believed the tradition of the “Osterhase” or Easter Hare — a mythical rabbit that laid colored eggs for children to find — began in Germany and was brought to America by German immigrants in the 1700s, the Web site says. By the 1800s, the tradition of the Easter Bunny had become widespread in the United States, www.history.com says.


 


The cross


The use of a cross as an Easter symbol seems obvious — Jesus was crucified on a cross and the religious holiday celebrates his post-death resurrection. Some believe an “empty” cross not bearing an image of the crucified Christ is a positive, post-resurrection image, says www.beliefnet.com. Interestingly, the empty cross as a symbol of the Catholic Church did not appear until the fifth century, and it was only in the seventh century that Jesus’s body started being depicted, according to the “Catholic Encyclopedia.” Also interesting is the fact that hot cross buns, small sweet rolls decorated with a cross and associated with Easter, actually date back to pagan Eostre celebrations, Sue Thompson writes in “Holiday Symbols and Customs.”