It comes every year and many times it includes the Easter Bunny, Holy Week, the Passion of the Christ, and a good family meal. But, where did all these Easter traditions develop? How did the Christian Easter traditions that have been practiced for centuries originate? Why do we even call it Easter?
Easter & Pascha
Catholics and Christians have been accused for years for just “Christianizing” pagan holidays. Although “Easter” stems from the name of a goddess, it seems to be about timing. A celebration of the goddess coincided with the timing of Passover and then with the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil/Sunday).
Pascha, the Greek word for Easter, has spread throughout the Romance languages. This is where we get the phrase,”Paschal mystery”. Pascha does mean to suffer and it seems it was eventually connected to Easter, rather fortuitously, because of Christ’s sacrifice. The Christian pascha sort of took over the Jewish passover. The exultet connects the Old and New Testaments and the deacon chants this at the Easter Vigil. Jesus is the true Passover Lamb who sacrificed Himself to save the people (what an image from the Exodus story!).
The Greatest Feast
Easter has always been considered the greatest and is the oldest Feast in the Church calendar. Some have called it the “center” of the Church year because everything depends upon it (the dates of all subsequent celebrations, like Pentecost, Corpus Christi, etc. are dependent upon the Feast of Easter). However, we also celebrate Easter every Sunday, which is why we don’t fast on Sundays, especially during Lent. Interestingly enough, there was a lot of controversy in the early Church about the date of Easter and when to celebrate this important feast.
Easter Eggs, Easter Bunny, and Easter Fire
Traditionally, eggs were forbidden during Lent (all animal products were, and actually still are in the Eastern Church). So, on Easter day, many ate eggs in abundance! Also, many dyed eggs (usually red) to show the joy of the season.
The Easter Bunny is another pagan influenced symbol that has become part of the Easter celebration, and probably not connected with Christianity at all. The Easter fire is another Pagan adopted tradition, but there is an Easter fire at the Easter Vigil to symbolize the Resurrection of Christ.
Other Interesting (and funny) Traditions
Many in the European countries adopted playing handball on Easter and even the priests and monks would play during Easter week. With the handball game there was also a dance (which the priests and religious would also participate in!). This tradition seems to have died out in the West (but sounds awesome!). Russians (and potentially Greeks) still have sports, music, dancing, and freedom to bring the church bells on Easter.
Another (hilarious) Easter tradition included women hitting their husbands on Easter Monday and husbands hitting their wives on Tuesday (I’m serious!). Why is this a thing? I have no idea! Also, in some parts of Europe, there were parades celebrating lifting up women for a kiss and vice versa the next day. Many think these celebrations were only celebrated before Jesus (which I’m kind of thankful for).
The blessing of food and houses, which still exists today, seems to be an ancient practice. Much of the food prohibited during Lent was blessed for the Easter meal, and the houses were blessed in a remembrance of the angel of the Passover who passed over the houses with the blood of the lamb on the lintels.
During Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain, many dress in skeleton costumes for the “Dance of Death” procession to remember and prepare for a “good death”. Many other countries and cultures have Easter processions that include angels, reenactments, carrying the cross, and costumes. In Rome, many participate in the Way of the Cross on Good Friday that ends in the Colosseum (just so ironic because so many Christians died there!). In Los Angeles, many bring out their animals for an animal blessing the day before Easter (which has been happening since 1930!).
Easter eggs and the Easter Egg Roll at the White House are still in full swing for most Americans and many other countries (including Germany and Hong Kong).
Of course, Catholics are aware of the washing of the feet, candlelight vigils and processions (especially entering the Easter Vigil), the sprinkling of holy water, and the many Way of the Cross celebrations.
Learn More & Visit the Shop!
Read more in depth about the development of Easter traditions and the liturgy here. Also check out these gorgeous photos of Easter traditions around the world. Visit our shop to pick up some of your favorite saint medals for Easter or for those who will soon be celebrating these traditions for the first time (shout out to the converts!).