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Lenten Challenge:  The History Behind Easter Traditions

Easter eggs lined up in a row.

For many, Lent is a solemn season. It’s a time for serious reflection, both spiritually and personally. But as we look ahead to Holy Week in March, our thoughts turn to quiet preparations for Easter joy. With that in mind, let’s take a look ahead at some of the lighthearted, fun ways people have and will celebrate Easter across the world.

Which of these traditions do you partake in? Are there any you will add to your Easter celebration this year? 

Easter Traditions

Egg Bashing

Many of you probably did this at your dining room tables growing up: you take a hard-boiled egg, face an opponent, and tap your egg on theirs to see which one breaks. But did you know this tradition is especially popular in Louisiana—so much so that they have community-wide competitions for it?

For example, in Marksville, Louisiana, there’s an annual egg knocking competition where eggs must be officially registered and stamped before the “pocking” begins, and can be either of the chicken or guinea variety. The last person left with an uncracked egg is named the grand champion.

Easter Monday

Though not widely celebrated in the U.S., Easter Monday is a major holiday in the Eastern Orthodox Community and is celebrated in parts of Eastern and Western Europe. As you may have gathered from the name, it’s held on the Monday after Easter. For some, it’s a religious celebration while for others, it’s merely an opportunity to spend time with family and friends (for example, in the UK it’s a bank holiday).

Flying Bells

The U.S. has the Easter Bunny. France, Belgium, and the Netherlands have flying bells.

In those countries, church bells do not ring in the days leading up to Easter, which led to the story that they all fly out of their steeples and go to Rome. When they return, they bring chocolate and dyed eggs to children.

Easter Bunny

Obviously, there’s no mention in the Bible of a chocolate-bearing bunny who good-naturedly fills the candy baskets of school-aged children. So, why is it such a big part of our Easter celebrations?

The question of where the Easter Bunny comes from has sparked a lot of interesting explanations. However, most theorize that it’s due to the tie between Easter and spring. Rabbits and bunnies are natural symbols of the renewal and fertility associated with the spring season. Pagan cultures used to celebrate the arrival of spring, and as Christianity spread, the two traditions blended together.

As Matt Soniak writing for Mental Floss points out, “It was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays.”

Easter Eggs

Like the Easter Bunny, eggs becoming part of the Easter tradition is likely a result of the fact that they are a symbol of new life and rebirth.

There’s also a religious component to painting hard-boiled eggs. According to Huffington Post, “painting Easter eggs is an especially beloved tradition in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches where the eggs are dyed red to represent the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on the cross. … The hard shell of the egg represents the sealed Tomb of Christ, and cracking the shell represents Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.”

Hot Cross Buns

This is more of a Good Friday tradition, but some people also enjoy hot cross buns on Easter. The origin of hot cross buns is unclear but the symbolism is clear: each bun is marked with a cross to commemorate the sacrifice Easter celebrates.

If you want to read more about hot cross buns, the Smithsonian Magazine has a very interesting article on five historical myths and traditions about hot cross buns.

Embracing Lent, Celebrating Easter

This year, many are joining us for the Lenten Challenge as we look ahead to Easter. Of course, after Lent and Easter end, there are still plenty of ways to nurture your spirituality as the year goes on. To help incorporate things like prayer, meditation, and self-expression into your daily life, you can download our free guide, How to Incorporate Spirituality into Your Life.

Join the Esquiline Lenten Challenge.