The Symbols Of Easter
As Christians traveled and shared Christ's story, more
and more people came to believe in him. They began to see their familiar
traditions, symbols, and celebrations of spring in a new way. These old
traditions became more than a celebration of spring, and were seen as
beautiful symbols of Christ defeating death and coming back to life.
The egg is one of the oldest spring symbols in the world. Primitive people
knew that the oval shape of the egg was the same shape of both a raindrop
and a seed, two important life-giving elements. They saw the egg as a
promise of new life.
In the spring, when birds and reptiles hatched from
eggs, people knew that life would continue, and so they celebrated.
Ancient Persians, Phoenicians, Hindus, and Egyptians all believed that
the world began with a single egg. One legend tells of a great egg which
broke in half. One half of the shell formed the earth, one half became the
sky, and the yolk became the sun!
Eggs were given as springtime gifts in
ancient China, Greece, and Rome. As the story of Christ's Resurrection
spread over the world, people saw the egg as a symbol of the stone tomb
from which Christ rose. They viewed the hatching birds and chicks as
symbols of the new life Jesus promised his followers. Even though they had
given eggs as gifts in the past, the gift of an egg now had a newer,
In England, in the Middle Ages, members of royal families
gave one another gold-covered eggs as Easter gifts. Even though most
people could not afford eggs of gold, they still enjoyed decorating eggs.
Sometimes they wrapped leaves, flowers, or ferns around an egg before
boiling it and the plants' patterns would be printed on the egg.
In Russia and Poland, women and girls spent hours drawing intricate designs on
In early America, children colored eggs using dyes made from
bark, berries, and leaves.
From 1870 until 1918, Peter Faberge was the
most famous Easter egg decorator. He designed eggs from gold, silver, and
precious gems for the kings of Europe and czars of Russia. Each egg cost
thousands of dollars. Faberge eggs are now priceless works of art which
may be found only in museums and private collections.
Egg decorating is
still practiced by artists who design beautiful eggs which open to reveal
tiny scenes, music boxes, or even moving toys!
Candles & Bonfires
An ancient times, huge
bonfires were lit in the spring.
When people became Christians, their
spring fires represented the light coming to the world through Christ.
Early Christians often lit bonfires on the night before Easter.
Now the candle is used as a symbol of the light of Christ. Many churches use a
large, white Paschal candle in their Easter decorations. On Easter Eve, in
the Greek Orthodox church, congregation members line up outside the front
door holding lighted candles. One person knocks at the door and asks,
"Isjesus inside?" Someone within calls, "No, he is not here. He is risen!"
Then the door is opened wide and the people enter their church in glowing
Long ago, people put out all of the fires in their homes on
Easter Eve. On Easter morning, "new fire" was taken from the one large
Easter candle at church as a sign of the new life offered by Christ.
Before the time of Christ, the cross was also a well-known symbol, used as
a special mark on clothes and buildings. In jesus' time, the cross was a
sign of death, because Romans used crosses to punish criminals. When Jesus
was crucified, believers saw the cross as a symbol of his suffering. Soon
after the Resurrection, however, Christians began to see the cross as a
sign of Jesus' victory Over death.
Today, Easter cakes, breads, flower arrangements, and cards are made in the shape of the cross. On Good
Friday, buns decorated with white frosting crosses are enjoyed as
For the Christian, the cross is a symbol of hope. And
around the world, the cross is recognized as the mark of those who follow
During Christ's time, it was a Roman custom to welcome royalty by
waving palm branches. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the first Palm
Sunday, people cut branches from palm trees, blanketed the streets with
them, and waved them in the air shouting "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord!"
Today, on Palm Sunday, Christians all over the
world carry palm branches in parades, make palm strips into crosses, and
weave palm leaves into garlands for church decorations. In countries where
palms do not grow, other plants are used instead.
Eastertime plant is the lily. The Easter lily is new in the celebration of
Easter, first brought to the United States in 1882 from Bermuda. On Easter
morning, churches fill their altars with these lovely, waxy white flowers
as a reminder of Christ's purity.
The Easter Bunny is a popular part of
many Easter celebrations in the United States, but its story goes back
thousands of years.
In Egypt long ago, people believed the rabbit was
responsible for the new life that abounded in the spring. Later, early
Christians saw the connection between the rabbit and new life as a symbol
for the Resurrection as well.
An old European legend says that the hare, a
relative of the rabbit, never closed its eyes. Since it watched the other
animals all night long, the hare became a symbol of the moon. The hare was
soon connected with Easter because the holiday's date depends upon the
An old German story tells of a poor woman who loved children
and enjoyed giving them Easter treats. One year, she hid brightly colored
eggs in her garden, and while the children searched for them, they saw a
hare hopping past. They thought the hare had left the eggs! German
children made nests of leaves and branches in their gardens for the
"Easter Hare." Some children left nests made of clothes or a hat in quiet
corners of their homes. When German children came to the United States,
they brought this custom with them.
Rabbits were more common in the United
States than were hares, so the Easter Hare became the Easter Rabbit, and
later, it was called the Easter Bunny. Early American children built nests
of leaves and sticks in their gardens or barns for the Easter Rabbit to
fill with colored eggs. Today, the Easter Bunny often brings his own
Long before the first Passover, Hebrew families gave lambs as
offerings to God. And since the first Passover, Hebrews serve lamb as an
important part of the Passover feast each year.
When Jesus died during
Passover, he gave himself as an offering to God for the sins of all the
world. This is why the Bible calls Jesus the Lamb of God. Early Christians
saw the lamb as a beautiful symbol of Jesus and began using it in their
Banners and flags decorated with pictures of lambs
were carried in Easter celebrations during the Middle Ages. Later, in
England, small Easter "pax cakes" were made with the imprint of a lamb on
Easter celebrations in many countries now feature candies and
pastries shaped like lambs. A beautifully decorated Easter lamb cake is
often the centerpiece of Easter tables in European countries.