Every year for Easter, my family’s tradition is to play a concert at sunrise in a cemetery. It’s one of those odd experiences that you can’t tell people without an odd look and a “You did what?” asked. We arrive at 5 a.m. for set up (which usually means that we’ve been up since 3) and a little warm-up rehearsal. Some years, we make up almost a fourth of the symphony orchestra—mom plays French horn, dad plays trumpet, I play violin, my sister plays flute.
We start playing right around 6 a.m. and the sun rises while we’re playing. One second we’re playing in the dark and it’s hard to see, the next moment we get a brilliant ray of light and our music is illuminated. However, then we usually come home and fall asleep in odd places. I fell asleep on the floor of the entryway last year, still wearing my black concert clothes (I am not a morning person). When we finally come out of this concert-induced coma, we pick ourselves up and have a nice dinner. Easter eggs are usually an afterthought, but there are always deviled eggs with dinner.
Easter traditions have been around since the first days of the holiday. The name for Easter comes from “Eastre”, a pagan Saxon goddess of spring, fertility, and dawn. She is also where we get the English word “east” because she was known to “hang out” with the sun go, since the sun rises at dawn in the east. Before you entertain your family and friends over the holiday weekend, take a moment to learn about how these Easter traditions came to be.
The Easter Bunny, also known as the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare, was originally much like the Santa Claus legend. He would act as a judge to the children, determining if they had been good or bad during that season. The good children would be given gifts and eggs the night before Easter for them to discover in the morning. The bad children would be left unrewarded.
However, his origins go back much further than that. Before the bunny was mascot of a specific holiday, the hare was a symbol of fertility in ancient times. Ancient scholars, such as Pliny, Plutarch, Philostratus and Aelian, thought that the hare was a hermaphrodite, which explained its ability to excessively breed. Later, the medieval church would adopt the hare motif in its church art and it became associated with the Virgin Mary.
The Easter Bunny that we know and love originated among the Germans. He was called “Osterhase,” which translates to Easter Bunny. This character was first mentioned in De Ovis Paschalibus (About Easter Eggs) by Georg Franck von Franckenau in 1682. The book also talked about how children would hunt the eggs hidden by this bunny.
German immigrants brought this legend to Sweden in the late 19th century, but the Swedish word for Easter Bunny, “Paskharen,” sounds remarkably similar to “Paskkarlen,” which means Easter Man or Easter Wizard, so the Swedes have a tradition of an Easter Wizard bringing eggs. This is a relatively new tradition, dating to the early 20th century. Some children even dress up as Easter witches to celebrate the tradition. It also has some roots in old Nordic folklore, in which witches would travel to “Blue Hill” to visit the devil during this time of year.
The Easter Bunny was also brought to America by German immigrants. The legend reached the US in the 18th century, when German immigrants were settling in the Pennsylvania Dutch region. Good children would prepare for the Easter bunny by making nests in their caps and bonnets so that the bunny could lay his eggs here (Yes, he is traditionally a male bunny, but with the magic ability to lay eggs).
Decorated eggs have long been a part of many different global celebrations. The practice of decorating eggs is ancient and well-established in the archaeological record. In Africa, ostrich eggs with carved designs have been found that are estimated to be 60,000 years old! Silver and gold representations of eggs were also found in burial sites of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians. The egg symbolized rebirth and was used in Pagan celebrations of spring. It was adopted by early Christians as a symbol for Easter and the resurrection of Jesus. The first use of Easter eggs for the holiday is attributed to the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red to celebrate the holiday. Since eggs and dairy were forbidden during the period of Lent, eggs were consumed before the period began, then they were stored up for the celebration of Easter, which also marks the end of Lent.
Did You Know? The International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (IABTI) sponsors an annual charity campaign in the US to build beeping Easter eggs for visually impaired children.
The Easter Bunny has been the official bringer of Easter eggs since the 17th century. The Easter egg hunt is a much-beloved tradition for many countries and cultures that celebrate Easter. The egg hunt was also a popular game for spring time birthday parties. The Guinness Book of World Records recorded the largest Easter egg hunt on April 1, 2007– 9,753 children searched for 501,000 eggs at the Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in Winter Haven, Florida.
Easter egg decorating has also been elevated to an art form. From 1885 to 1916, the Faberge workshops created the annaul jeweled Easter eggs for the Russian Imperial Court. Each egg took a year or more to make and often depicted important milestones of the Romanov family. The 1913 Winter Egg is carved from rock crystal, with 3,246 diamonds. It is valued at over $9.6 million.
In the Ukraine, pysanka eggs are decorated using a special batik, a wax-resist, method. The design is drawn onto the egg with wax and then dipped into dye. In Mexican tradition, Cascarones are eggs that have been emptied and filled with confetti for the egg hunt. When the eggs are found, children (and adults) smash them over each other’s heads. In Sweden, Norway, and Germany, decorated eggs are hung from tree branches as centerpieces for the table. At the White House, the Easter Egg Roll is held annually and children can roll the Easter eggs across the president’s front lawn.
However, decorated eggs aren’t just for the egg hunts. “Egg tapping” or “egg jarping” is a popular game in England, in which each player must hit their egg against another player’s. The winner is the person who keeps their egg from breaking. There is even an annual egg jarping world championship held at Peterlee Cricket Club each year. Yes, a world championship of egg breaking. Another popular activity is to celebrate Easter with an egg dance. People in Germany and the UK place the eggs on the ground and try to dance among them without landing on the eggs. My guess is that they do this outside or somewhere they can hose the mess down later.
So, try something new this Easter. Invite your friends and family over for an egg dance or use crayons to try your hand at pysanka eggs. A misting fan can keep your backyard cool for the kids. Temperatures could reach 79⁰F in Southern California on Easter Sunday. Begin training sessions for the egg jarping world championship. Make a nest for the Easter bunny in your favorite baseball cap.
Or buck tradition and start a new one. A backyard BBQ wouldn’t be the traditional choice for food, but hot dogs and burgers are always crowd pleasers. For the adults, try a Blue Cotton Tail (1.5 ounces of vodka, .5 ounces triple sec, and .25 ounces blue curacao) or an Easter Fizz (2 ounces of brandy, 1 egg white, 1 teaspoon powdered sugar, 1 ounce half and half. Shake hard and dust with a sprinkling of nutmeg). A portable ice maker can provide enough ice for cold beverages all day long.
You could also take the kids on a hunt for the Easter bunny. Plant some clues, like an egg trail or a bit of his cotton tail stuck in a bush (cotton balls). At the end of the hunt, leave the baskets with a note from the Easter bunny that says he barely got away this time and to try again next year.
If you really want to be original with your holiday traditions, egging houses with Easter eggs has probably never been attempted before.