Easter Activities and Traditions

Easter Activities and Traditions

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
  1. One of the two most significant holidays for Christians worldwide, Easter includes a number of traditions rooted in early Christianity, as well as many that originated in ancient pagan spring equinox and May Day celebrations.

     Easter Traditions

    Choice of Day

    By tradition, Easter is what is called a “movable” holiday. In Western Christianity, it is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (spring), according to the Julian calendar. This method of setting the date was established in 325 AD by Roman Emperor Constantine I at the First Council of Nicaea. Since the equinox and the full moon change year to year, the date for Easter can range from March 22 to April 25. Eastern Christianity, however, uses the Gregorian calendar for its calculations. By this calendar, Easter can vary from April 4 and May 8.

    Easter Bunny

    In ancient Egyptian times, the hare was a symbol of luck and fertility, and honored in ancient spring fertility rituals. Similarly, the ancient Druids believed the rabbit was associated with birth and resurrection due to its two-sided life, living half its life above ground, and half in the underworld. And in medieval Britain, the rabbit was the alchemical symbol for tin; tin being sacred to the “White Goddess” who was associated with spring equinox. With such a long tradition of association with spring and rebirth, it was an easy transition to becoming a central part of Easter festivities.

    Easter Eggs

    Tied to pagan fertility rituals traced to several ancient cultures, eggs were commonly used for the creation of talismans, and were eaten during fertility rites. Historians believe the gathering of bird eggs in the spring by Celtic tribes of Europe gave rise to three customs now integral to Easter: egg coloring, the use of Easter baskets, and egg hunts. Associating the activities of birds with fertility — nest building, mating, and then laying eggs of many colors — early pagans believed that by imitating this behavior, they could assure fertility among their people for the coming year.

    Egg Coloring

    Many ancient cultural traditions included the coloring of eggs as part of spring fertility rites. Equating the color, size and quality of particular eggs with a range of magical and ritual powers, many cultures developed methods of obtaining particular natural dyes with which to reproduce those eggs they considered most powerful.

    Easter Baskets

    Part of ancient European pagan spring ritual was the imitation of the birds as they “wove” their nests in preparation for mating. Tied to several egg customs, children in ancient as well as modern times are given baskets to collect their eggs. Many historians assume that in ancient times, the making of baskets and coloring of eggs was part of an elaborate spring equinox fertility celebration involving entire villages.

    Egg Hunts

    Based in the spring egg-gathering traditions of several ancient pagan groups of Europe, eggs hunts became a children’s activity in more modern and prosperous times. Forbidden to consume eggs during Lent (the 40-day period preceding Easter) according to Roman Catholic dietary laws, it was a special treat to collect and eat eggs. In the mid-1800s, the tradition began in America for the Easter Bunny to “hide” eggs for the children, most likely as a reward for them not eating eggs during Lent.

    Egg Rolling

    From the Easter egg hunt tradition grew a number of children’s games including egg-throwing matches, egg rolling competitions (where children try to outdo each other in rolling colored eggs down grassy slopes), and knocking the pointed ends of their eggs together. The child whose egg doesn’t shatter gets the broken egg, too!

    Easter Sunrise Service (Watching the Sun Dance)

    The wide-spread belief that the sun danced for joy at dawn on Easter morning led to the custom of going to the hills at sunrise to witness the recurrence of this event. This practice was still prevalent in the British Isles well into the 19th century. When this custom was brought to the United States, it became the Easter “sunrise” church service.

    Hot Cross Buns

    In ancient Greek tradition, cakes were inscribed with the solar cross and presented as offerings at spring equinox to several Goddesses including Eos (the sister of Helios, the sun). Christians of western Europe adopted the custom of baking and eating hot cross buns on Easter morning and brought the tradition to the Unites States.

    Easter Egg Bread

    Three traditions originating in western Europe involve the baking of Easter bread that contain hardboiled eggs. One, called “Italian Eostre Basket Bread,” is a method whereby dough is formed into the shape of a flat basket on a cookie sheet, into which two or three eggs are baked into the cross weavings of the basket. The second, commonly known as Pane di Pasqua, is a method whereby several eggs are baked into a loaf of sweet bread which when sliced, reveals the eggs. A third variation on this theme is to create a knotted, pretzel-like bread into which colored eggs are baked.

    Easter Lily

    Symbolizing life after death (resurrection), the Easter Lily grows, blooms, and then dies each year, repeating the cycle the following year from the same bulb. While the tulip, daffodil, and narcissus were also used to symbolize this cycle in other cultures, the lily was specially engineered to bloom on cue each spring in America.

    Easter Parade

    The early Christians wore white robes all through Easter week to symbolize their new lives, and took processional walks through the streets after Easter Mass led by a crucifix or Easter candle. Through the centuries, these walks became secular, evolving into Easter parades where paraders traditionally wore something new. In the mid-1800s, it became tradition for people to show off their spring finery, especially fancy bonnets decorated with spring flowers bought just for the occasion. A popular tradition of the late 1800s was for a man to gift a pair of gloves to a girl he fancies on Valentine’s Day. If she wore them in the Easter parade, it meant she was agreeing to marry him.

    Easter Hats (Bonnets)

    Part of the “new clothes at Easter” tradition, the Easter bonnet can be traced at least to 16th century Europe. During America’s Great Depression, the idea of buying a new hat was a luxury most women couldn’t afford, and usually resorted to refurbishing their old one. In more recent times, women purchase new and elaborately designed hats especially for church services, which are then worn in the Easter parade afterwards. This tradition too is rooted in the idea of taking the opportunity to buy luxury items at the end of Lent.

    Activities: Easter Arts and Crafts

    Egg Coloring

    While some traditions call for parents to secretly color eggs (so that the Easter Bunny can “hide” them), others allow for children to do the coloring. No matter the tradition, the idea of making interesting designs on eggs surrounded by exciting colors, has a long history dating back many centuries. While in ancient times dyes were meticulously made from natural substances: orange from onion skin, yellow from turmeric, pink from beets, blue from red cabbage–those have been replaced by commercial dyes.

    The most elaborate Easter egg decorating traditions come from eastern Europe where eggs are often painted silver and gold. Also, a method known as pysanky, a ritualize style from the Ukraine, are created by carefully applying wax in patterns to an egg. When the egg is then dyed, wax is reapplied in spots to preserve that color, and the egg is boiled again in other shades. The result is a beautiful, multi-color striped or patterned egg. (In centuries past, pysanky eggs were eaten during elaborate rituals.) Another fascinating method of egg decoration involves first blowing out the liquid of a raw egg, leaving just the delicate outer shell.

    Easter Cards

    Easter cards arrived in Victorian England in the late 18th century when a stationer added an Easter greeting to a drawing of a rabbit. Now a growing tradition in the U.S., the sending and making of Easter cards is more popular than ever, and greatly simplified as many computer programs allow anyone to custom design and print cards themselves.

    Attending the Easter Parade

    While the custom of joining in the Easter parade is less popular than in past decades, many cities like Philadelphia, Boston, and Atlantic City have followed New York’s famous lead and organized fantastic parades that have become tourist attractions. Still, for many small towns around the country, it wouldn’t be Easter without the local marching bands and parade of ladies and gentlemen in their Easter finest.

    School Plays & Spring Pageants

    Many schools around the country present annual Easter plays and spring pageants to give kids the opportunity to show off their singing or acting talents for parents and neighbors. Grade schools commonly provide arts and crafts projects so kids can make paper bunnies, baskets, and eggs to decorate their classroom and homes. Additionally, commercially-made Easter decorations are growing in popularity.


Leave a Reply