Easter, which celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is Christianity’s most important holiday. It is called a moveable feast because it doesn’t fall on a set date every year as most holidays do. Instead, Christian churches in the West celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox on March 21. Therefore, Easter is observed anywhere between March 22 and April 25 every year
The exact origin of the word Easter is unknown. The English historian known as the Venerable Bede (673-735) wrote that the word Easter is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of Spring and fertility. Through a translation error, the term later appeared as esostarum in Old High German, which eventually became Easter in English. In Spanish, Easter is known as Pascua; in French, Paques. These words are derived from the Greek and Latin Pascha or Pasch, for Passover. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection occurred after he went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew), the Jewish festival commemorating the ancient Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt.
Around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the tribes’ pagan symbols as a conversion tactic.
The Easter eggs represent the beginning of a new life. Eggs became a symbol of the advent of Spring, which brought with it new life for flora and fauna. Easter eggs were first colored by the pagans to resemble the rising sun and to announce the return of light. Later, an ancient Christian legend spoke of Mary giving the eggs to Roman soldiers and begging them not to kill her son. Subsequently, Easter eggs became a popular gift to give on Easter to bring luck and welfare to the family.
In Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent. Eggs laid during that time were often boiled or otherwise preserved (pickled eggs anyone?) Eggs were prized Easter gifts for servants; I am sure because eggs were plentiful after Lent, they could be given out to servants as “gifts of food”.
Easter Bunny & Chicks
Rabbits and chicks represent the rebirth of Earth. Spring is a time when the Earth is literally reborn. Barren fields become lush green, trees seem to come back to life with new foliage and flowers and fruits abound.
The Easter bunny is the most beloved symbol of Easter and is extremely popular with children; however history indicates that it may have been the hare and not the rabbit that was associated with early Easter traditions. The hare is legendary because it is believed to never close its eyes, not even to blink. Hares were thought to be staring at the full moon all through the night. The hare was also a symbol of fertility, linked to the Greek goddess of fertility. Eostre.
The white lily is thought to be as pure as Christ, and a symbol of the purity of the new life that comes from the resurrection. Here in the West we call these Peace Lilies because, let’s be honest, the name “Resurrection Lily” would only sell to a certain market share.
Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I wish you all a wonderful weekend. Happy Spring!!
8 thoughts on “A Short History of Easter Symbols”
A timely and interesting piece. Symbolism plays such a hugh part in our lives and to know the origins is important.
Keep up the good work
Thanks. Yes, symbolism does play an important part of our lives. Symbols are a visual language, don’t you think?
Reblogged this on The View From Sari's World.
Glad for this reblog, Sari. Did you know that the Welsh for “Happy Easter” is Pasg Hapus? And I remember from childhood the lighting of a Paschal candle in church.
No, I didn’t know that. I don’t remember much from Church as a child. We only attended when I was very young. All I remember is getting new gloves and Easter bonnets.
Gloves and bonnets! Catholics didn’t go in for those. Thankfully as an adult I don’t go in for any religion or similar superstition though, like you, I do think it’s important to understand historical and cultural context.
LOL, they did in America! This and mass in Latin (scary to a little kid) is all I remember of Catholic Church. Oh and the little vials of Holy Water we got to take home when we were “good”.
When my son was ten I decided to take him to an Easter service because I thought he should have some understanding of Christianity since it is so pervasive in our culture. Afterwards he said he never wanted to go back because the dead man on the stick of wood scared the heck out of him.
Yes, some RC churches go for that larger than life crucifix in a big way. Tom, the godless chimney sweep in The Water-Babies, thought it strange to see a small image of a man hanging up on a post in a little girl’s bedroom.