There are some Easter traditions that have disappeared in the mists of time, such as getting your feet washed (a religious symbolic gesture to Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at Passover). But many of the rituals of today have been carried out for hundreds of years. Here are a few of them…
The origins of these might actually go back thousands of years, as the egg is an ancient symbol of new life and would have been celebrated in pagan spring festivals. People might have coloured them and given them as gifts.
For Christians, the egg represents life and Jesus’ resurrection, and people are thought to have been painting them at Easter for at least 800 years to then eat on the day of the festival.
These days, the eggs have turned distinctly chocolatey, and we now buy them for our loved ones as gifts. They come in all sizes, from the mini eggs we hide in the garden for children to find, to the most amazing giant Easter eggs that people gaze at open-mouthed… before tucking in!
The phrase ‘breeding like rabbits’ may well have a lot to do with the origins of the Easter bunny. The small mammal is an ancient symbol of fertility, due to its prolific ability to procreate, so – like the egg – may well have been celebrated in pagan spring festivals.
In the US, German immigrants brought over a tradition of an egg-laying hare, and children would make nests for its colourful eggs. This tradition seems to have spread and evolved from there, and these days the ‘bunny’ will leave chocolate eggs and gifts.
Hot cross buns
It’s believed the tradition was started by a monk who, in the 12th century, marked his rolls with a cross to celebrate Good Friday. Whether or not this is true, people have been making spiced fruity buns in spring for hundreds of years and apparently, if you hang one from the ceiling on Good Friday it prevents kitchen fires… what more incentive do you need to get baking?!
This might have its roots in plague-ridden Egypt when people would paint their doorposts with sacrificial lamb’s blood in the hope that God would ‘pass over’ their homes. The lamb was, therefore, an important symbol of Passover celebrations. It’s also one of the first meats available in spring.
We’re all familiar with Easter egg hunts, and many might have had a go at egg rolling (literally rolling eggs down a hill), so why not try some other traditional games this year? Egg knocking is a spring version of conkers, where you hit your opponent’s hard-boiled egg with your own and the person with the egg that cracks first loses.
Learning the origins of our annual rituals helps us to see them in different ways and might even give an added incentive to keep traditions going. Luckily, they’re all either jolly tasty or jolly good fun, so we can keep history alive while having a great time in the process.