Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The New Testament says this occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion. It is preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
In countries with a large Christian population or history, Easter is often a public holiday. As Easter is always on a Sunday, many countries in the world also observe Easter Monday as a public holiday and some also have Good Friday (the day of Christ’s crucifixion).
1. The Easter Egg Hunt
As an ancient Pagan symbol of new life and rebirth, the egg became associated by the Christians with Jesus’ crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.
Although the roots of the Easter egg hunt aren’t known, many believe it dates back to the 1700s and the Pennsylvania Dutch in the US. They believed that a rabbit called the Oschter Haws laid eggs in the grass. Children then built nests for the rabbit to lay in so they could search for its eggs after. The Oschter Haws eventually became known as the Easter Bunny, no longer laying eggs, but leaving treats instead.
Today’s most famous Easter egg hunt is held at the White House on Easter Monday. The “egg roll” party has been hosted by American presidents and their families since 1878. It is held on the South Lawn and is one of the oldest annual events in White House history. The First Lady Dolley Madision is credited with the original idea of a public egg roll and there are stories that President Abraham Lincoln hosted some informal ones during his tenure.
2. Decorating Eggs
During their celebrations of springtime and the new life it brings, ancient peoples would include the symbolic eggs (as mentioned above) by decorating them. These coloured eggs would then be given to their friends and families as gifts. When Christianity spread, this tradition was integrated. The most common colour used to dye them was red as a symbol of Christ’s blood shed as he was crucified.
Today, different countries have different techniques for decorating their Easter eggs. For example, in Ukraine intricate folk designs are drawn onto eggs and then they are dyed. Rather than dying eggs, the people of the Czech Republic blow the egg out of its shell and then wrap and weave thin wire around it.
3. Easter Fire
During the Easter weekend, large fires are lit at dusk in Northwestern European regions including Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Northern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The tradition has been around at least since the 16th century, although likely was performed by the Saxons long before. These fires were traditionally lit to symbolize Spring’s victory over Winter, chasing its darkness away. They also symbolized fertility and the ashes were used in fields and meadows around town to help the new crops grow. Today these fires are more an excuse to come together as a community and enjoy yummy food and drinks.
4. Pot Throwing
Primarily an Orthodox Easter celebration on Corfu, a Greek island, pot throwing is believed to chase off evil spirits. The origin of this surprising custom is not clear, however locals believe that the Venetians started it when they ruled Corfu from the 14th to 18th centuries. At the beginning of each new year, the Venetians would throw away old belongings to make way for the fresh new ones.
After the Venetians left, the Greeks adapted the custom by replacing the old belongings with clay pots and shifting the date to the highly-important Easter holiday. When these pots are smashed, the spectators take pieces home as good luck charms. Some also believe that the pots are a symbol of the new crops that will come with the arrival of springtime.
5. Pouring Water On One Another
Easter Monday is also known as Wet Monday in Eastern European countries such as Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Some say Wet Monday gained its name when Christianity came to Poland and the Prince Mieszko was baptized on Easter Monday. It also may have its origins in a Slavic pagan ceremony in which the Corn Mother fertility goddess was “watered.” A doll or wreath made from corn received this water to encourage the crops’ growth.
Whichever the origin, the Śmigus-dyngus tradition lives on through the pouring of water on girls and boys. On Monday, boys pour water on girls and spank them with willow branches. Willows being the first tree to bloom in the springtime according to legend, the spanking serves to transfer the tree’s vitality and fertility. The wettest girl has the highest chance of getting married. The next day it is the girls’ turn to throw water on the boys and spank them back.
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