Early American settlers did not celebrate Easter at all because the majority were Protestants (many were Puritans) who believed that religious celebrations and festivals weren’t part of worshipping God.
Still, centuries later, Easter is not an official American holiday. Even though an Annual Easter Egg Roll takes place every Monday following Easter Sunday on the lawn of the White House, the U.S. government doesn’t recognize Easter as an official holiday.
It wasn’t until the Civil War era that Easter became celebrated as a holiday. The Presbyterian Church in America began mirroring some of the European Easter celebrations. And, in the late 1850’s the scars and sacrifice of Christ on the cross were first remembered and celebrated in worship services in most churches, taking from some Polish traditions.
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The Easter Bunny first gained popularity in America in the early twentieth century. It was depicted as a colorful rabbit bringing Easter eggs and candy in a basket to small children. First called the Easter Hare, and made popular by German Lutherans, the bunny was supposed to judge whether or not children had been “good or bad.”
Similar to “Christkind,” the German version of America’s Santa Claus, according to German legend, the Hare would bring colored eggs in a basket with candy and small toys. If they were good, they received a basket. Jelly beans, a smaller, sweeter version of eggs, also were used in Easter baskets. Children dying eggs and waking up to baskets full of chocolate, small gifts, or candy, similar to opening gifts on Christmas morning.
The German custom of the Easter Hare was first mentioned in the 1682 book, De Ovic Paschalibus, by Georg Franck von Francenau. The Hare bringing gifts coincided with the non-Christian celebration of the Spring Equinox marking the beginning of spring, or rebirth. On March 21st, pagans celebrated the Spring Goddess who ushered in the fresh flowers, sunshine, fertility, and cleansing rains. A small hare was a symbol of spring, which morphed into becoming part of the “Easter season.”
The Easter Bunny doesn’t lay eggs. But the tradition of bunnies bringing eggs began in Poland.
During Lent, the church required Christians to abstain from eating eggs. In order to not waste eggs and let them last longer, Christians began boiling them so they could eat them after fasting. Polish tradition also taught that eggs were symbols of “new life” and used them in church services, which represented rebirth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Secular celebrations still involve painting elaborate designs on wooden eggs, called Pisanki.
Pisanki eggs originate from the Polish word, “pisac,” which means to write. Many exhibit detailed ornamented designs, etched designs on previously colored eggs, and the names of gift recipients. Polish tradition teaches that eggs have magical properties and are signs of a plentiful harvest and good health, and people give them as gifts to their friends and family.
Some historical accounts evidence that early Mesopotamian Christians died eggs red in memory of Christ’s spilt blood. Other countries died eggs yellow and green to celebrate rebirth and springtime. Egyptians and Persians viewed eggs as a symbol of fertility and colored them to represent renewed life. In this way, dying hard-boiled eggs also morphed into modern-day celebration of Easter and celebrating springtime and new life.
The Christian celebration of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a changing holiday, dictated by the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Traditionally, Easter is celebrated on a weekend that falls in late March to early April.