While modern day Easter is celebrated as a major Christian holiday, specifically the resurrection of Jesus Christ after His crucifixion by the Romans and a primary tenant of Christianity, the holiday itself predates the western religion. Much of Easter centers around specific floral and gift traditions today, and most of these are rooted in ancient traditions.
Anglo-Saxon tribes celebrated the time of Eostremonat, which was a celebration of the Spring Goddess Eostre. Like many instances of indigenous tribal customs coinciding with Christian significant days of the calendar, Eostre was likely absorbed by conquering Christian explorers and renamed Easter consistent with Christian celebrations as England and Ireland were colonized.
While the symbolism of eggs has for centuries been associated with Spring and new life, in early days eggs were actually not allowed during the Easter period. In fact, eggs were forbidden during Lent, a period of sacrifice. It was only when Easter arrived and passed that eggs were then part of big feasts when people could eat again without restraint. Since no one had refrigerators in those days, eggs were often boiled or pickled to preserve them for eating days later. It was during this time period that finding an egg in a children’s hunt was a major prize, so boiled eggs were colored and hidden as gifts to children. The custom still exists today with fake plastic eggs and candy inside.
The symbol of the Easter rabbit originally started with German tribes and custom of a Spring rabbit that laid eggs in hidden places for children to discover them. Many German immigrants brought the custom to the U.S. when colonizing in the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania area and the idea stuck. Cakes roughly shaped like rabbits were also baked as part of this custom and given as gifts along with daffodils, which likely morphed into the modern day gift of chocolate bunnies and flowers in baskets.
Pussy willows and Easter cards came from England after an early card-maker added an image of a rabbit to a card around the Easter time. The idea was a big attraction, and it created a new custom of Easter card-giving.
The Easter parade, often a big event in every major city today, began as a religious symbol and procession in early church days. Christians right after Easter and a baptism would wear white robes in a march procession following a lead member carrying a Crucifix. This march symbolized a new life starting in Christ after His sacrifice. Today, it has morphed into annual city Easter parades, floats and all. Lilies are often used to celebrate Easter mass and representative of Christ’s purity sacrificed for believers. Passion flowers are also another Easter flower, often used for decorations and table accents.
Flowers and Easter will continue to be synonymous with Spring, but it’s important to remember many of today’s traditions were rooted into customs from centuries before.