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The history of Easter customs and traditions

EXPLAINERS
By Mike Nyagwoka | April 3rd 2021
Easter eggs. [Courtesy]

For the second year running, Christians all over the world will have uneventful Easter celebrations. At the onset of the Covid-19 in the year 2020, the Easter holiday was the first among major celebrations to be sacrificed at the altar of measures that were taken by various countries to try and curb the pandemic. However, Covid-19 notwithstanding, life must go on, and though varied across the world, the Easter customs and traditions will be abided by. What are they and where did they begin? 

Easter Bunny and eggs

The bible which should form the foundation of Easter celebrations has no mention of a bunny or a rabbit. The real historical foundations of the tradition of having a rabbit are unclear. However, all historical accounts agree that the animal is a symbol of fertility. It is believed that before Christianity, the was a pagan holiday that fell around the period on which the Easter holiday is marked between March and April. The pagan holiday was held in honor of the goddess of fertility, spring, and dawn called Eostre or Easter. The Easter bunny and Easter eggs were their symbols of new life and fertility.

According to historical scholars, the pagan celebrations had its origins in German before it was adopted in the USA through the immigration of German Lutherans in the 1700s.  The scholars further reveal that some of the pagan traditions were maintained by Christian missionaries in the hope that they would find it easier to convert the Anglo Saxons to Christianity. Obviously, not all historical scholars agree on this narrative though it remains with the most backing in historical records.

Little bunny and eggs in a basket. [Courtesy]

The Easter Bunny and decorated Easter eggs remain quite a common feature in Easter celebrations in countries such as the US, England, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Denmark. The Easter egg also plays a big role in other Easter customs such as the Easter egg roll where hard-boiled decorated eggs are rolled down a steep hill using a long-handled spoon. In the USA, this festival is hosted by the sitting president at the White House Lawns for children below 13 years old. There is also the ‘Egg Hunt’ where children play a kind of treasure hunt game looking for hidden eggs.

Religious ceremonies

For most Christians, particularly outside Europe and America, the holiday takes its purest form as a remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the biblical narrative captured in the books of Mathew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus died a day before the Sabbath - which was Saturday and arose on Sunday a day after the Sabbath. Mathew 28: 1 says ‘After the Sabbath on the first day of the week, Mary went to look at the tomb…’ 

In the Catholic church, Easter holidays are the culmination of the period of Lent which is 40 days’ period of preparation that ends on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the holy week that culminates with the Easter celebrations.

Paper and a cross made of palm leaf. [Courtesy]

Good Friday and Easter Monday are not working days in most countries including Kenya and most people use the opportunity of a long weekend to visit their relatives and friends. In Kenya, were it not for the pandemic, there would have been a temporary migration to the villages. Tour companies usually arrange special packages for their clients in various destinations. However, due to the pandemic, the long weekend may just pass like any other as many hope that it will be the last time the Covid-19 pandemic disrupts Easter plans.

 

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