The Origin of Easter Symbols

by Catie Smith on April 13, 2017

The Real Meaning of Easter Symbols.jpeg

Our culture is not always friendly to the Christian faith. It's understandable that people who do not know Christ don't emphasize the Christian meaning of Easter.

Now that we're approaching Easter, let's take some time to get a clear understanding of the common Easter symbols. Many of these symbols have roots in the Christian heritage or have been adopted by Christians to teach truth. 

1. Easter Bunny

Since ancient times, people have associated rabbits with fertility. For this reason, rabbits often appear in Christian art that contains mothers and children.1

How did the symbol become associated with Easter? Truthfully, we're not entirely sure. Some have speculated that the rabbit simply symbolizes life—a fitting emphasis for Easter.

Since the rabbit was the animal symbol for Eostre, a fertility goddess, some believe the symbols is steeped in ancient paganism.2 Still others link it to a German tradition carried to the New World.3 Interestingly enough, Easter is associated with foxes in Germany and cuckoo birds in Switzerland.How to Teach Your Children the True Meaning of Easter.png

2. Eggs

According to Time.com, Eggs have long been connected to Easter because they connote life.

Eggs are also representative of new life, and it's believed that decorating eggs for Easter dates back to the 13th century. Hundreds of years ago, churches had their congregations abstain from eggs during Lent, allowing them to be consumed again on Easter. According to History.com, in the 19th century Russian high society started exchanging ornately decorated eggs—even jewel encrusted—on Easter.

Ancient Hindus, Egyptians, Persians, and Phoenicians all believed the world began with a large egg.4 Each spring, they would celebrate by gifting each other with eggs at their yearly festivals. The association with Easter may have originally begun with early Christians appropriating familiar cultural symbols for the holy day.

Whatever the egg's connection to Easter, by the 12th century, the church publicly acknowledged the use of eggs for Easter with the Benedictio Ovorum. According to Crosswalk.com,

In 1290, Edward I of England recorded a purchase of 450 eggs to be colored or covered with gold leaf. He then gave the eggs to members of the royal household. Once the custom became accepted, new traditions began to grow up around it. Eggs were dyed red for joy, and in memory of Christ’s blood. Egg rolling contests came to America from England, possibly as a reminder of the stone being rolled away.5

It's often also explained that the emergence of the chick illustrates Christ's resurrection from the tomb. Like most holiday symbols, there's a pagan explanation as well.

Why do we often mix Easter rabbits and eggs? It seems the German tradition of “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws” is responsible for the blending of these symbols.6

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3. Lamb

For nearly 3500 years, the Jewish Passover has been observed with the killing of a lamb. As Scripture tells us, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

It's only right that we still associate lambs with the holiday.

knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. — 1 Peter 1:18–19

4. New Clothes

During the mid-1800s, New Yorkers would exit their services donning new clothes. Soon others showed up to watch the impromptu parade that would occur each year. The Easter Parade still occurs each year in New York.

Although it holds no spiritual significance, the Easter Parade does parallel the common Christian tradition of wearing new clothes on Easter.

For many years, Christians have marked the holiday with new clothes. Some believe this tradition dates back to the early Christians who would wear new white robes for baptismal services on Easter.

New clothing, especially white clothing, has long been used by believers to mark the purity of Christ. From Joshua the High Priest to the saints with Christ at his return, white robes signify the salvation God gives.

5. Sunrise Services

The first recorded sunrise service took place in Saxony in 1732. It was observed by a group of Moravians at a local cemetery called God's Acre. This tradition celebrates the women who went to the tomb early Easter morning to find it empty. Moravian immigrants carried the tradition to America by 1743.

Today many Christians gather on Easter morning to celebrate the resurrection of their Lord. 

May God give us wisdom as we teach our children the true meaning of Easter!

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  1. For example, Titian's Madonna and Child with St Catherine and a Rabbit. ↩︎

  2. According to time.com ↩︎

  3. “According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.“ Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Additionally, children often left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping.” — History.com article ↩︎

  4. According to Crosswalk.com ↩︎

  5. According to Crosswalk.com ↩︎

  6. According to a History.com article ↩︎