Easter traditions and symbols have evolved over time, although some have been around for centuries. The decoration of eggs is thought to date back to at least the 13th century, while the ritual of the Easter parade has even older roots. Other traditions, such as the consumption of Easter candy, are among the modern elements of celebrating this early spring holiday.
The Easter Bunny has become a prominent symbol of Christianity's most important holiday. The exact origins of this mysterious mammal are unclear, but rabbits are known to be prolific breeders and are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life.
According to some sources, Easter bunnies first arrived in the United States in the 1700s, and their children built nests in which the creatures could lay colorful eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across America, and the legendary bunny's Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolates and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced the nests.
Easter is a religious holiday, but some of its customs, such as Easter eggs, may be associated with pagan traditions. Eggs are an ancient symbol of new life and are associated with pagan festivals that celebrate spring. From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs are said to represent the emergence and resurrection of Jesus from the grave. According to some sources, decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates back to at least the 13th century. One explanation for the custom is that eggs were fasted until Lent, so people would paint and decorate eggs to mark the end of the penitential and fasting period, and then eat them on Easter as a celebration.
Easter egg hunting and egg rolling are two popular egg-related traditions.
In New York City, the tradition of Easter parades dates back to the mid-1800s, when the upper echelons of society would attend Easter services at various churches on Fifth Avenue and then stroll outside showing off their new spring costumes and hats. Ordinary citizens began showing up on Fifth Avenue to check out the action.
The tradition of Easter parades continues in Manhattan, with participants often wearing elaborately decorated hats and bonnets. The event has no religious significance, but sources note that Easter parades have been part of Christianity since its earliest days. Today, other U.S. cities have their own parades.
Lamb is a traditional Easter food. Christians call Jesus "the Lamb of God," although the Easter lamb also has its roots in the early Passover celebrations. In the story of the Exodus, the Egyptian people suffered a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all the firstborn sons. Members of the Jewish faith painted their doorposts with the blood of sacrificial lambs so that God would "cross over" to their homes. Jews who converted to Christianity continued the tradition of eating lamb at Easter. Historically, lamb would be one of the first fresh meats after the long winter when there were no animals to slaughter.
White Easter lilies symbolize Christ's purity for Christians and are a common decoration for churches and homes around the Easter holiday. They grow from dormant bulbs underground to flowers, symbolizing the rebirth and hope of Christ's resurrection. Lilies are native to Japan, and they have since become the unofficial flower of Easter celebrations throughout the United States.
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