We all know Easter as a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ. However it is believed its customs originate in ancient paganism that the Saxons worshipped, with eggs symbolizing new life at the dawn of spring. The word Easter derives from the pagan goddess of spring; ‘Eastre’. Of course they also came to originate Jesus re-emerging from his tomb. People have decorated eggs probably since the 13th century, presumably because they were forbidden by the church in the week leading up to Easter, so any eggs laid were saved and decorated often given as gifts to children, or eat them on Easter as a mark of celebration.
By the Victorian era people were making eggs from cardboard, filling them with gifts or sweets, and wrapping them in fabric. Around this time the first chocolate eggs emerged in France and Germany, but they were hard and bitter. In Britain Fry’s chocolate were making solid Easter eggs in 1873. In the 1930s, jelly beans too became associated with Easter for their egg-like shape.
Unlike eggs, the significance of the Easter bunny is shrouded in mystery. Religiously symbolising everything from rebirth and fertility, to innocence and purity due to its white colour in Christian art, it has no clear Christian meaning. Instead the Easter bunny may emerge yet again from Anglo-Saxon paganism. Their spring goddess Eastre signifies fertility and personifies a rising sun. Due to fertility and its relationship with new life, Eastre could change her pet bird into the form of a rabbit to please children, which would bring them brightly coloured eggs as gifts.
So believe it or not, the customs surrounding Easter probably have more in common with paganism – considered almost derogatory in a time when Christianity was so pivotal to society.