Easter for Christians around the world is an important holiday. It is an occasion celebrated to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter being a holy festival is associated with a variety of symbols and icons. The Easter symbols, which are a blend of paganism, Christianity and Judaism, often used to beautify the altar of churches and homes on Easter. Sadly, most people who decorate their homes with eggs, lilies, or palm branches do not know the meaning of Easter and the Easter symbols.
What Is Easter?
Easter is an important holiday to Christians since the celebration commemorates the rebirth of Jesus. However, for some people easter is a celebration of the spring season too. This is because before Christianity spread around the world the people celebrate the coming of a new dawn, which is spring instead of Christ resurrection.
Come to think of it! The word Easter according to legend is derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess, Eostre also known as Ostara. The goddess of fertility symbolized the rebirth of life and dawn of spring. In case you are not aware, spring season is celebrated long before Easter is associated with Christ rebirth. In fact, it is only when Christianity grew and its teaching spread across the globe that the spring festival turned into a Christian festival.
By the way, in case you are not aware Easter also linked to Passover, a popular Jewish holiday by symbolism and calendar position. Furthermore, the meaning of easter and Passover is also similar. In Hebrew, the word easter is pesach which means “He Passed Over.” Even in other languages, like in Spanish easter is Pascua, in Portuguese it is Pascoa, while it is Paques in French and so on and so forth, all means Passover. In other words, the word Easter is Passover, except in German and English language.
Now, Passover and Easter is similar in terms of calendar position because easter celebrated after the Passover or last supper. According to the church proclamation, Easter to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the Equinox or the first full moon. The equinox does not have a fixed date, it also changes which is why Easter date is also movable.
Now that you have an idea about the meaning of the word Easter and its association to paganism and Passover, let discuss the different easter symbols that are a blend of Christian and pagan symbology.
Easter Symbols and Their Meanings
The following are symbols of Easter and their meanings that you need to know to appreciate the symbols and their role in Easter.
1. Egg and Hare
Egg and hare were symbols of fertility and a new beginning in spring. Since time immemorial, eggs have been associated with world or universe by many cultures. So, it is not surprising that eggs for hundreds of years have been used for rituals, decorated and were hung in temples in Babylonian time. They dyed, painted, decorated, and then used egg as a symbol for spring festival since eggs represent new life and a new dawn.
When Christianity spread out across the world, egg becomes a symbol of man’s rebirth rather than nature or spring. Christians symbolize the egg to Jesus Christ tomb from which he broke forth and rose again. Likewise, they painted the egg with red to symbolize the blood of Christ, and every year the decoration becomes elaborate and colorful. Today, Easter eggs decorated with myriad of colors to make it more fun to look at, so kids can better understand their importance to the celebration of Easter.
Now when it comes to the bunny or hare, legends say bunny symbols originated in Germany since they were the first one to mentioned it in a writing that dates back to 1500s. Anyway, in many parts of the country, most Germans believed that bunny laid red eggs on Holy Thursday then it laid multi colored eggs the day before Easter Sunday. The German settlers that came to America brought the tradition and custom of their easter holiday with them, including the bunny symbol.
2. Easter Baskets
The symbol of Easter baskets originates from the catholic custom of bringing food to the mass for blessing. Traditionally, people bring basket of food, their easter dinner to the church to be blessed. This custom is somewhat similar to the pagan ritual of taking the first harvest to the temple, when people still celebrated Eostre festival. They bring their harvest to be blessed and to thank the goddess for the fruitful season.
Today, Easter baskets are no longer filled with easter dinner or crops like in the old days, as the easter baskets are filled with colorful eggs, toys and sweet treats for children. Easter is an occasion where children can eat lots of chocolate eggs, have fun coloring eggs, a tradition that goes back to the Babylonian time and combined with the Easter basket custom of the Catholics.
Lily is another Easter symbol often used for decoration. Pagans have revered lilies white color so much that it is also, called, “white robed of apostle hope.” It is a fact that white symbolizes purity, honesty and everything nice, and lilies white color and emergence from the earth in the spring season has made the flower perfect symbol of Easter. Lilies are highly favored against other flowers that blossoms in spring because its pure white color just right to symbolize Jesus purity and resurrection.
4. Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns is a popular Easter symbol in England. Buns are a traditional easter food in England were it is first baked and served on Good Friday.
However, before buns were baked for the lent, Hot Cross buns were first baked for the feast of Eostre, a Saxon fertility Goddess. In the old days, when the people celebrate the Eostre feast, the people sacrificed an Ox for the goddess of fertility. Years later, the custom stopped and the people baked buns instead. They baked bread called buns, which in Saxon word simply means sacred ox. They baked buns then carved it with ox horn symbol.
When Christianity becomes popular, the church assimilates spring festival with Easter, to get rid of the pagan feast. Thus, the symmetrical cross that they carved into the bread and used to symbolize the heavenly body of the fertility goddess were associated to Jesus resurrection instead. And the ox horn that were carved into the buns were changed to the cross, which symbolizes Jesus crucifixion in the cross. The custom of carving the bread with a cross continues today to remind people of Jesus sacrifices.
5. Easter Candles
Candles are an Easter symbol since it represents the lights of the world and the candles lighted in churches during Easter mass commemorate the rebirth of Jesus after three days. Take note, Jesus considered as the light of the world when he rose from the dead. This is because he brings new hope and beginning to the world, and took away darkness just like what the candlelights do. Thus, the Catholic Church used candles to symbolize Easter festival.
6. Easter Lamb
Christian across the world celebrates Easter with great fanfare. Easter, which is celebrated to remember Jesus resurrection from the dead after three days, is observed with fervor in some countries. The lamb symbolizes Easter because Jesus represents the lamb, he is the lamb of the highest.
7. Palm Branches
When Jesus first arrived in Jerusalem, the people welcomed him by waving palm branches to signify their happiness at his arrival. The church uses the palm branches to symbolize the start of the lent and since the palm represent Jesus arrival.
8. The Cross
The cross, since time immemorial has been an icon of Christianity and an integral part of all Christian celebration, including Easter. The cross is a symbol of life and sacrifices of Jesus for humanity. The cross symbol brings hope and new life, which is why it is also a symbol of Easter.
In some parts of Europe, pretzels are served only at the start of the Lent, which is from Ash Wednesday to Easter to maintain the sanctity of the bread. Since the middle ages, pretzel is part of the easter celebration, families prepare pretzel for the easter ceremony. Pretzel, which resembles a crossed arm folded in prayer, symbolizes penitence and fasting, while the three holes symbolize trinity.
Butterfly is another important easter symbol since the butterfly life cycle symbolize the life of Christ. The caterpillar, which is the first stage, stands for Christ life on earth. The cocoon stage portrays Christ death at the cross and burial, the third stage and most important phase is his rebirth after three days. The butterfly, the final stage, is Christ resurrection from the dead, so it is just right that it is a symbol of easter.
These easter symbols have been used for celebration of Easter. Knowing the meanings of Easter symbols will help you determine which symbols to use for your home or office as well as understanding the importance of celebrating easter.