Easter is rabbits, colored eggs, chocolate and fancy dresses, but to Christians around the world it is much more. Easter is the most important Christian holiday of the year.
On Easter Sunday, Christians commemorate the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the grave on the third day after his crucifixion and death on Calvary.
People who were very aware of seasonal change and arranged their lives and community events around them, founded the ancient traditions of Easter. The festivities of Easter have many customs and legends that are pagan in origin and have nothing to do with Christianity.
The name Easter comes from Eastre, ancient goddess of mythology who signified spring and fertility. In pagan times an annual spring festival was held in her honor. It was not until the second century that Easter became known as a religious holiday.
During the second century, missionaries attempted to convert Saxons to Christianity. To coincide with their spring festival, Eastre, missionaries incorporated the Christian message with the pagan traditions. Slowly the people were converted and the festival was changed into the Christian celebration called Easter.
Some Easter customs have come from this and other pre-Christian spring festivals. Others come from the Passover feast of the Jews, observed in memory of their deliverance from Egypt.
Of all the symbols associated with Easter, the Easter egg is the most identifiable. The egg was originally a symbol of fertility and new life. Eggs were painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring and were used in contests and given as gifts. Children today still enjoy coloring and hunting for eggs on Easter morning.
The Easter bunny has its origins in pre-Christian festivals as well. The rabbit, the earthly symbol of Eastre, was known as the most fertile animal and served as a symbol of new life during the spring.
German settlers introduced the Easter bunny to America during the 1700s. Children believed that if they were good, they would be brought a nest of colored eggs. The German tradition was ignored until after the Civil War when Easter became more widely celebrated in the United States.
Lilies are also synonymous with Easter. The lily, unlike the bunnies and eggs, does have Christian meaning. This white flower represents the purity that came through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The shape of the lily is also significant. Its bell-shape is like that of a trumpet and represents the announcing of victory.
Another Christian symbol associated with Easter is the cross. The cross is the holiest of Christian symbols. It represents the cross Jesus Christ was crucified on so the sins of humanity could be redeemed.
According to Joseph Magee, director of the Catholic Student Center on campus, the cross and lilies are not the only Christian symbols of Easter.
“Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, so the empty tomb is an important symbol of that event,” he said.
Though the Christian meaning and traditions of Easter are often lost in the commercialization of the holiday, it is important that people spend the day with loved ones celebrating hope, love and new beginnings.