Why do we celebrate Easter? When did we start eating Easter eggs? Where did the Easter bunny originate? Historian Emma J Wells explores the origins of this springtime celebration and explains its religious connections
Like its festive and spooky cousins, Christmas and Halloween, Easter evolved over centuries, blending Christian and non-Christian elements together.
…the only actual surviving mention of Eostre comes from 8th-century monk the Venerable Bede, whose writings suggest the English people called the fourth month Eosturmonath or Eostre-Month (marking the spring equinox) after the goddess, and feasts were celebrated in her honour.
… Passover was celebrated according to the Jewish lunar calendar which didn’t correlate with the Christian Julian solar calendar, thereby causing confusion.
In 325 CE, Emperor Constantine, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, decided to take charge of the matter. He convened the Council of Nicaea and decreed that Christ’s resurrection was far too important to be connected with the festival of another faith [Judaism]. Since the days following the winter solstice gradually became longer and lighter, this provided ideal symbolism for the rebirth of Christ, “the light of the world”, as clarified in John’s Gospel.
Constantine thus ordained that Easter was to fall in close proximity to a similar significant time in the solar year: the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
One of the primary tropes associated with this season of renewal was the egg from which life bursts forth. This was no Christian invention – the symbol had been used by Anglo-Saxon pagans to celebrate spring, and likely even earlier.
Somehow, the idea formed between bunnies or hares and the laying of those eggs. Both were ancient symbols of rebirth in the spring, and hares were particularly associated with seasonal rituals … because of their astonishing powers of fertility – hares are, of course, known for being immensely fertile, hence the phrase “at it like rabbits”!
…there is an earlier reference (from 1572) to an Easter ‘Hare’ which appeared at night to ‘lay’ eggs, …. But it was not until the Victorian era that Easter eggs and hunts became popular in England.