Isn’t it funny how it is with any holiday. Name any celebration, and you can bet there are a few crazy traditions that go along with it. We don’t know where most of these rituals come from or why they even exist--they just do. This is just the way things have always been done, and so it goes. Even still, with Easter right around the corner, we thought you might like to know where some of the more commonly known Easter symbols came from and how they hopped their way into the celebration of this favorite springtime holiday.
Most people know that Easter is a significant holiday to Christians. Easter marks the day that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead after having been crucified and buried away inside a tomb. But what does this have to do with bunnies, chicks, lambs, and eggs? Believe it or not, many of the most common Easter symbols and traditions that we associate with Easter ironically stem from old pagan rituals and ceremonies that go deep into history, even long before the advent of Christianity.
Oestra: In ancient days, there was a goddess of fertility, new life and springtime whose name was Oestra. Every year during the spring at the time of the Vernal Equinox, the pagan people would hold various festivities, feasts and rituals in order to worship Oestra. The symbol associated with Oestra was the rabbit, largely because it is well known for its prolific ability to reproduce and has abundant fertility.
Egg Laying Bunny? Around the 13th century, eggs were also an important symbol representing fertility, new life and rebirth--all things that were significant during springtime and the celebration of Oestra and all that she represented to these early pagan people. Later on in history as Catholicism spread throughout Europe, the symbols of eggs and bunnies were incorporated into the religious celebration of Easter. By the 1500’s, tales and legends of an egg-laying bunny were being told throughout Germany. In the late 1600’s the first actual story of such a talented rabbit was published. When German people immigrated to the United States, of course they brought with them their traditions and stories. One of these obviously was that of the Easter Bunny.
Lamb: The lamb has often been a Christian symbol closely associated with Jesus Christ. In the ancient Hebrew religion, the lamb was often used as a sacrifice to God. In this sense, since Christians believe that Jesus’ life was sacrificed in order to obtain eternal life for humanity, Jesus became known as “the lamb of God”.
Chick: The baby chick obviously has many close associations with Easter as well as springtime. Some say also that the chick breaking out of the eggshell symbolizes Jesus Christ coming out of his rock tomb during his resurrection. The baby chick represents rebirth and new life.
Butterfly: The entire life process and metamorphosis of the butterfly has religious connotations to Christians. The caterpillar and subsequent cocoon it forms around him symbolizes death as well as burial. When the butterfly emerges in it’s winged form this symbolizes the resurrection of Christ or rebirth.
Pretzels: Pretzels go all the way back to the 5th century where they were made by monks and then were subsequently given out to the poor just before Easter. During later years, pretzels were the only type of bread eaten from Wednesday through Saturday during the week prior to Easter. The twisted dough that forms the shape of the pretzel is thought to represent the folded and crossed arms in a prayer position, which is a reverent nod to Easter.
The Cross: For Christians, the symbol of the cross represents Jesus Christ’s victory over death.