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How Eggs Changed the Celebration of Easter

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Why we celebrate with plastic Easter Eggs, Ham dinners and chocolate

When I was growing up, Easter was always a whimsical holiday about finding candy hidden in plastic Easter eggs, receiving a gift of a chocolate bunny and devouring a big ham dinner. There was a bunny involved somehow…although I didn’t’ fully understand how a rabbit could be responsible for hiding all the candy, for all the boys and girls, everywhere, on the same morning. I was raised by a loving secular family who celebrated family and togetherness, so it was only until I started going to church as a teen that I realized how this most religious of holidays—Celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—had been changed with commercialism stuffed into brightly colored Easter eggs.

You may be surprised to learn, however, that many American customs surrounding Easter can be traced to ancient Christian (and sometime Pagan) traditions. If you have spent most your life celebrating holidays “the American way,” like me, you have probably wondered why Americans adopted various Easter traditions. Specific cultural oddities were usually based on ancient folklore or practicality, and of course how immigrants interacted with other immigrants in the new world. The holidays represent the most prolific examples of how immigrants’ ideas have been mashed together to create our cultural norms so it only makes sense that our holidays seem to stray from convention. America truly is a cultural melting pot Easter is an example of that. So, let’s take a look at how our modern-day American traditions surrounding Easter came to be.

The Easter Bunny Rabbits, long known to be prolific procreators, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life befitting a spring holiday. According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700’s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and brought with them the egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Children left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping and as thanks for hiding all those Easter eggs in their prepared nests or hats.

Decorating Easter Eggs
Eggs are a traditional symbol of fertility and rebirth, and spring is in fact the peak season for the production of eggs. Easter eggs have symbolized the empty tomb of Jesus, from which Jesus resurrected. Furthermore, the ancient tradition of staining Easter eggs can be traced to the 13th Century when eggs were colored with red dye in memory of the blood of Christ shed at that time of his crucifixion.

Easter Candy

Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday in America, only after Halloween. Chocolate Easter eggs take the lead in popularity, closely followed by jellybeans, which have been associated with Easter since the 1930s. Each year, there are 16 billion jellybeans made for the American Easter holiday, according to the National Confectioners Association. Then there is the Peep; the modern Easter favorite, which claims title as the most popular of non-chocolate Easter candies. The Peep’s inventor, a Russian immigrant named Sam Born, started his candy company, Just Born in 1923 and began selling yellow marshmallow Peeps back in the 1950s.

Chocolate Easter Eggs
German immigrant children made nests in anticipation for the Easter Bunny’s colored Easter eggs, which are given to celebrate springtime. Because chocolate is tastier than a hard-boiled egg, chocolate Easter eggs rose in popularity as gifts for children in America. Eventually, the custom of giving chocolate Easter eggs made by Cadbury, Hershey, Lindt, Nestlé, Sees and Godiva spread across the U.S. and filled the decorated baskets that replaced nests and hats of the early 1900’s.

Easter Egg Rolls

Started in 1878 under Rutherford B Hayes’ presidency, the White House Easter Egg Roll is a race in which children push decorated, hard-boiled eggs across the White House lawn. The annual American Easter Egg Roll has no religious significance, although some people have considered Easter egg rolling symbolic of the stone blocking Jesus’ tomb being rolled away, leading to his resurrection.

The Easter Feast
While many Americans enjoy ham on Easter, another typical Easter food is lamb, as it is was served at Jesus’ last supper as the Passover meal. But Jewish people traditionally do not eat pork, so why is ham on the American Easter table? Probably out of new world convenience. Without refrigeration, salted pork would last through the winter and be ready to eat in spring, long before other fresh meat was available.