Easter is laced with baskets of candy, peeping chicks, and new beginnings. Millions of children wake in anticipation – much like they do on Christmas – anxious to find what goodies they’ll find. Some credit the Easter Bunny, others thank mom and dad.
But the holiday itself is about much more than hunting for eggs and buying new dresses. It’s full of rich symbols that date back to ancient traditions and beliefs. Not only is it an important Christian holiday, but its history bears whispers of pagan connotations, too.
The name of the holiday comes from Eastre (sometimes spelled Eostre), the pagan goddess of spring. The story goes that Eastre’s festival was held about the same time as the anniversary of the resurrection, so missionaries simply substituted one holiday for another. This can be seen in the origins of several of the holiday’s symbols.
Easter eggs and little chicks both symbolize new life. The meaning of the egg goes back to ancient times, where it was associated with the spring. Aside from being a mini incubator, its oval shape makes it look like a life-giving raindrop or a seed.
Rabbits and hares have been symbols of fertility for eons. Fertility and birth go hand in hand, so it’s easy to see the parallel to the resurrection. The idea of the Easter Bunny originated in Germany, where people told tales of an Easter Hare who laid eggs that stayed hidden until children found them.
When Germans started immigrating to America, the tradition came with them. Hot cross buns are an old Easter tradition dating back to a monk in England that made them each year for the poor. The buns have a symbolic frosting cross on the top.
All of these symbols reinforce the magic and beauty of spring. It’s a holiday that reminds us of the miracle of new beginnings, and the possibility of change. And that’s something everyone can believe in and hope for.