Easter traditions and their origins

Catholic Archbishop Phillip Anyolo leads faithful in the 'Way of the Cross Walk' to mark Good Friday along Parliament road, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

Easter is a Christian festival and cultural holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as described in the Bible. It is the corner stone upon which the Christian religions are built.

However, over time, the festival has gathered influences from different people and cultural practices.

Many of the Easter traditions and symbols have roots in different religions. This particularly includes the pagan goddess Eostre and the Jewish holiday of Passover.

According to the 6th Century author of ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, St Bede the Venerable, the word ‘Easter’ hails from Eostre, or Eostrae, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.

Other quarters say the word comes from eostarum, meaning ‘dawn’ in Old High German, a precursor of English language.

What about the Easter eggs and Easter Bunny?

First, eggs were a traditional symbol of fertility and rebirth. Based on Christianity, the Easter eggs symbolize the empty tomb of Jesus, from which Jesus was resurrected.

Furthermore, there is an ancient tradition where they stained Easter eggs with the colour red “in memory of the blood of Christ, shed as at that time of his crucifixion.”

The analogy of the Easter eggs was traced back from Persian Nowruz tradition into the early Christians of Mesopotamia.

The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus, with the Roman Ritual adding more doctrines from older texts including the Easter Blessings of Food, one for eggs, along with those for lamb, bread, and new produce.

According to scholars, the widespread usage of Easter eggs was due to the prohibition of eggs during Lent.

In the modern-day era, family and friends replaced the real eggs with chocolate eggs wrapped in coloured foil, hand-carved wooden eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as chocolate.

The Easter Bunny is also a sign of fertility. In pagan belief, the rabbit, which lays eggs, is a symbol of fertility and is celebrated in honour of Eostre/Ishtar.

The rabbit was originally a hare, but the concept of a rabbit has become more popular with this holiday, and also for commercial purposes.

According to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Easter celebrations commenced with the Great Lent, which begins on ‘Clean Monday’. This ‘Clean Monday’ referred to 40 days prior to Easter, but does not include Sundays.

According to the New Testament, Jesus was arrested by the Roman authorities, because he claimed to be the “Son of God”. Some would argue that the main motive was that Jesus was a threat to the Roman Empire since He was loved and popular. He was sentenced to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Emperor in Judea.

This is remembered by the Christian holiday Good Friday and His resurrection three days later is said in the Bible to be the proof that he was the living son of God.