Easter is a time of springtime festivals. In Christian countries, Easter is celebrated as the religious holiday, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. But in actuality, Easter has many customs and legends that are pagan in origin and with nothing to do with Christianity.
The word, Easter is thought to come from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre." Both are goddesses of mythology that signify spring and fertility. Festivals for them were celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox. Like the Easter Bunny. The rabbit is a symbol originating with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the hare or rabbit.
The date of Easter is determined by the moon—symbolism strongly tied to the hare. Ever since the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21st.
The Easter Bunny was introduced to American folklore by German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s. "Oschter Haws" was considered "childhood's greatest pleasure," of course after a visit from Christ-Kindel on Christmas Eve. If children had been good, then the "Oschter Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs. The children built their nest in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys used their caps and girls, their bonnets, to make the nests . The use of elaborate Easter baskets came much later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread throughout the country.
Weird traditions connected to Easter:
I was shocked to find this custom in Czech Republic/Slovakia, on Easter Monday, Whipping Monday is very popular. Men lightly whip or spank women with special whips to show their affection. Some women even give the men colored eggs or money to thank them for the favor- according to legend, spanking a woman ensures that she will keep her health and beauty throughout the next year.
Poland has Dyngus Day, a variation on Whipping Monday. Boys will lightly whip girls with a pussy willow or dump water on them- but the girls get their revenge with whips and water the next day, on Easter Tuesday. The tradition of Dyngus Day is especially popular with the Polish community of Buffalo, New York.
If you’re looking to have a Big Fat Greek Easter, then you’ll need to stock up on fireworks and earthenware pots when you take a trip to Greece around Easter. As soon as Easter Mass ends, townspeople across Greece hurl pots out of their windows in order to ward off evil and bring prosperity. Another tradition, known as rouketopolemos, is celebrated in the town of Vrontados. Two rival church congregations celebrate by attempting to knock down each other’s bell towers using fireworks as ammo.
In England, a few places in the country where you can find still Pace egg plays, but they’re still going strong after hundreds of years in a few small towns like Heptonstall in West Yorkshire. The plays usually depict St. George locked in a monumentally epic struggle with evil. Not sure what Easter has to do with St. George. Pace plays are often accompanied by Morris dancing, which is a bouncy, skip-like traditional dance.
The Christian celebration of Easter embodies a number of traditions particularly due to the relationship of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach). Pasch, another name used by Europeans for Easter, is derived from Pesach.
A Spanish festival commemorates the resurrection of Easter with colorful fireworks and booming cannons. Judas images often are shot at by the soldiers. Greeks would buy Easter candles and colored eggs for Good Friday, and on Easter, served the traditional lamb for dinner. They sometimes would do solemn processions wound through the streets, carrying lighted candles and holy pictures. A Bavarian custom concerned fashioning of little crosses and they would set those up in the fields. They also did Easter parades along with children rolling Easter eggs downhill for fun. In Tyrol, musicians would tour every valley and sing Easter hymns. The villagers of villages they did this would join in, and after dark, light the way with torches.
Other legends connected to Easter:
These were rung in France and Italy throughout the year, but never rung on the Thursday before Good Friday. The silence of the bells had to do as remembrance of the death of Jesus. On Easter, they were rung as a way of telling people Jesus lived again.
A symbol of Christian religion as Jesus was put on a cross, then was brought back to life.
The Easter Lily
The lily was a reminder to the Christians of how Jesus came back to life.
These being daffodils, narcissus and tulips. Because bloomed late in spring, they became meshed with Easter as symbols.
Especially picked at Easter in England and Russia, people tapped each other on the shoulders with a branch of it for good luck.
A symbol for Jesus as the Good Shepherd who would watch over them as they were lambs.
Rabbits are symbols of spring and new life (though I would consider lambs too, since born around this time), besides also the favorite animal of the spring goddess Eastre.
A sign of spring and Easter, they are a sign of new life. Interesting Fact: Back in the 19th century, families too far from town hall, took an egg and dye it, inscribing it with an infant's name and date of birth—making eggs into birth certificates. It was accepted as a legal document.
The chicks are born from eggs and are a reminder of spring and Easter.
Enjoy two tales that are legends to do with Easter, too. Unlike pagan ones, these are more Christian in relation.
Hot cross buns and other breads marked with an X symbolizing the cross are a tradition on many Easter tables. There are many kinds of sweet breads from all over the world, like Choreg (Armenia), Paska (Ukraine), Babka (Poland), Tsoureki (Greece). There is a traditional Italian Easter Bread that has eggs baked right in (talk about hiding the Easter eggs!). The breads are risen breads which may also show a desire for Easter traditions to be different from Passover which includes unleavened breads.
Legend of the Dogwood
An old and beautiful legend says at the time of the crucifixion, the dogwood was comparable in size to the oak tree and other monarchs of the forest. Its firmness and strength got it selected as the timber for the cross, but to be put to such a cruel use greatly distressed the tree. Crucified Jesus in his gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all said to it: "Because of your sorrow and pity for My sufferings, never again will the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. You will remain slender, bent, and twisted, and your blossoms in the form of a cross—two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints—brown with rust and stained with red. There will be crown of thorns in the center of the flower, remembrance for all who see this."
The Easter Lily
One of the most famous biblical references to the lily is the Sermon on the Mount, when Christ told his listeners: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
Often called the "white-robed apostles of hope," lilies are said to have been found growing in the garden of Gethsemane after Christ's agony. It is said these beautiful white flowers sprang up where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and distress. Christian churches at Easter by filling their altars and surrounding their crosses with masses of Easter lilies, commemorating the Resurrection and hope of life everlasting.
The pure white lily has also long been closely associated with the Virgin Mary. In early paintings, the Angel Gabriel is seen holding out a branch of pure white lilies to her, announcing that she is to be the Mother of the Christ child. In other paintings, saints are pictured carrying vases full of white lilies that they give to Mary and the Infant Jesus.
Lilies had a significant presence in the paradise of Adam and Eve. Tradition says Eve left the Garden of Eden, shedding real tears of repentance, and from those remorseful tears sprang up lilies.