How Easter Works

Easter Traditions

Easter basket Easter basket
A typical Easter basket in the U.S. contains a chocolate rabbit and some brightly colored Easter eggs and marshmallow peeps. njpPhoto/Getty Images

­In addition to the religious celebrations and observances of Easter, many countries also celebrate Easter with sweets and baked goods. Eggs, a traditional symbol of new life, are hard-boiled and dyed. Chocolate candies of all shapes and sizes are bought. Cakes and breads are baked and carefully decorated. An­d in many homes, families celebrate Easter with a gathering of family for an elaborate Easter dinner. According to the book "Festivals and Celebrations," eggs were dyed in ancient times by the Egyptians and Persians, who then exchanged them with friends. "It was in Mesopotamia that Christians first gave eggs to their friends at Easter to remind them of the resurrection of Jesus," author Rowland Purton writes.

If Lent is­ observed as it was intended to be, eggs are a forbidden food (this is why eggs were used on Shrove Tuesday). Centuries ago, when Lent ended on Easter Sunday, it became tradition for people to give decorated eggs as presents to their friends and servants. Over time, the tradition of painting or decorating eggs has continued, particularly with the Ukrainians and other eastern Europeans known for their beautiful and intricate designs.

The bejeweled "Easter Egg" created by the artist Peter Carl Fabergé in the late 1880s in St. Petersburg, Russia, is the extreme of egg decorating. The lapis lazuli egg is a gold, enamel, pearl, diamond and ruby creation that features a hinged, enameled "yolk" that conceals a royal crown. This crown is also hinged and opens to reveal a ruby egg. Though this Easter egg is not documented among the Russian Imperial Eggs, experts say it was probably created for a member of Russian royalty. Visit The Cleveland Museum of Art: Special Exhibitions to view other intricate and bejeweled eggs created by Peter Carl Fabergé.


­Rabbits are a powerful symbol of fertility and new life, and therefore, of Easter. The Easter Bunny, like Santa Claus, has become a popular children's character. But it may be that the Easter Bunny is something of a historical mistake.

Hares were sacred to the pagan festival of Eostre. At some point, the hare was replaced by the rabbit (some say that this is because it is difficult to tell hares and rabbits, both long-eared mammals, apart).

Hot Cross Buns

­According to the book "Dates and Meanings of Religious & Other Festivals," hot cross buns "used to be kept specially for Good Friday with the symbolism of the cross, although it is thought that they originated in pagan times with the bun representing the moon and its four quarters."

The custom of eating hot cross buns goes back to pre-Christian times, when pagans offered their god, Zeus, a cake baked in the form of a bull, with a cross upon it to represent its horns. Throughout the centuries, hot cross buns were made and eaten every Good Friday, and it was thought that they had miraculous curative powers. People hung buns from their kitchen ceilings to protect their households from evil for the year to come. Good Friday bread and buns were said never to go moldy. This was probably because the buns were baked so hard that there was no moisture left in the mixture for the mold to live on. Hot cross buns and bread baked on Good Friday were used in powdered form to treat all sorts of illnesses.