When we think of Easter, we usually associate it with images of spring, baskets, rabbits, and colorful eggs; but not everyone knows the meaning behind these traditions and symbols. Easter is one of the most important holidays in Christianity and originally the word Easter comes from the Hebrew pesach and refers to different religious holidays around the world. To most people in the Americas, Easter is understood as the holiday that marks Jesus’ resurrection after his crucifixion.
Read on to find out more about this important day, its history, and how it’s celebrated in the U.S.
The Origin and Meaning of Easter
Easter is a Christian holiday that commemorates Jesus’ resurrection. According to the Bible, Christ's resurrection occurred three days after his burial after the Romans crucified him. Easter is preceded by Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. It concludes the Passion of Christ which is celebrated by a series of events and holidays.
Easter’s origins are believed to be derived from pre-Christian mythology and pagan celebrations marking the beginning of spring. Before this celebration became a Christian tradition, the spring festival honored the goddess Ostara or Eostre, which is where get the name Easter from. She was the ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn and the vernal equinox. Her name honors the sun rising in the East.
Traditional Easter masses are held at sunrise on Easter Sunday. They symbolize continued worship of the sun from the original Easter celebration. The vernal, or spring, equinox, always occurs around this date. This event marks the time of year when days get longer as summer approaches. This increased sunlight helps crops, which is why many of the traditional Easter symbols are associated with fertility and harvest.
When is Easter Celebrated?
Unlike other celebrations, such as Christmas or Independence Day, which are always celebrated on the same day each year, Easter is considered a movable feast, and varies from year to year. Although the exact date of Easter always changes, it always occurs between March 22 to April 25.
Easter always occurs on the first Sunday after the Easter full moon. This is defined as the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox. It represents the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. For example, in 2022, the vernal equinox was March 20. This means that the first full moon after that date is the one that will occur on April 16. That day is a Saturday, so the following day, April 17, is the first Sunday after the Easter full moon and, therefore, Easter. If you want to calculate the date of Easter for any year, you can use this online calculator.
Many people get confused by the fact that many symbols associated with Easter have nothing to do with religion. Most of these come directly from ancient holidays that celebrated fertility. The most common symbols that you’ll find in Easter celebrations and decorations are:
The Easter Bunny
The Bible doesn’t mention any long-eared, short-tailed creatures that deliver decorated eggs to well-behaved children during Easter Sunday. The Easter bunny is a prominent Easter symbol. Its exact origins are unclear, but rabbits, known to be prolific breeders, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life.
The egg has been a symbol of birth since ancient times and has been associated with pagan spring festivals for centuries. From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus' rising from the grave and resurrection.
Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates back to at least the 13th century. One explanation is that eggs were a forbidden food during Lent, so people kept them boiled during this time. As the end of Lent approached, they were painted and decorated to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting, and then eaten during Easter as a celebration. Today, people prefer to celebrate this holiday with chocolate eggs.
The Easter candles are large candles that are decorated with various Christian symbols. They’re used during Holy Saturday service that then becomes the dawn of Easter Sunday. Every year, the church’s Easter candle is replaced by a new one during this celebration. Some bring a candle from their homes to be blessed by the priest.
Flowers are often associated with fertility and spring, and they’re widely used for Easter decorations. All flowers are welcome, but the most popular is the white lily (in fact, it’s known in many places as the Easter lily). For Christians, this flower symbolizes Jesus’ purity and is used to decorate churches and homes. Lilies grow from bulbs that lie dormant in the ground during the winter. They serve as a reminder of Christ's resurrection.
Lilies are native to Japan and were brought to England in 1777. They were brought to the U.S. after World War I and subsequently became a staple. Easter lilies became the unofficial flower of Easter celebrations in the U.S. Later on, the custom spread to other parts of the world.
How Is Easter Celebrated in the United States?
Easter Sunday isn’t a federal holiday in the U.S., but some businesses close or have limited hours. Many churches hold special services celebrating this important day.
As for other celebrations, many decorate eggs with their families and organize an Easter egg hunt. The eggs—which can be boiled chicken eggs, chocolate eggs or even hollow plastic eggs that hold tiny gifts or candy— are hidden inside houses or gardens for children to find and keep them.
The annual egg roll held in the White House garden is a popular Easter tradition in the U.S. This activity has been suspended due to COVID for the last two years but is expected to make a colorful return in 2022.
How Do You Decorate For Easter?
There are thousands of ways to decorate your home for Easter. The main themes are flowers, bunnies, pastel colors, and, of course, decorated eggs. Here are five decorating ideas that you can use for your home:
- Buy or make an Easter wreath. Many stores sell Easter wreaths made from a variety of materials. You can even repurpose a Christmas wreath and add details like fresh flowers and decorated eggs. Another great option is to make one out of paper like the one shown here!
- Place Easter bunnies in fun spots. Rabbits are the unofficial Easter mascot. You can place stuffed bunnies on your furniture or opt for figurines at the entrance of your home or garden. You can also make your own Easter bunnies from recycled materials!
- Decorate trees or bushes with colorful Easter eggs. In countries like Germany and Austria, it’s traditional to decorate garden trees with decorated eggs. This tradition is similar to Christmas trees. The main difference is that the tree is outside instead of inside.
- Place floral arrangements in your favorite spots. The amount of flowers in both gardens and flower shops always increases with the onset of spring. You can buy arrangements or make them yourself with flowers from your garden or wildflowers. If you pick wildflowers, just remember to follow your local laws and only do so on private land with the owner’s permission.
- Decorate the sidewalk outside your home with rabbit tracks. You can draw small rabbit tracks on the sidewalk near your garden. If you host an Easter egg hunt for kids, these footprints can give them clues as to where they are hidden! If you don't have access to an outdoor space, cutting out colorful paper footprints and placing them on the floor inside your home is another great option. Drawing them is easy; you can Google images for reference or use our favorite reference that incorporates a heart.
Ready To Celebrate?Easter celebrations and traditions in the U.S. differ greatly from other parts of the Americas and the world— how do you celebrate it in your home country? Tell us about your traditions on our Facebook page. We’d love to see pictures of your decorations, like the ones described here or any others. We wish you a very happy Easter, and remember… SABEResPODER.