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Five Easter traditions and their origins

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Easter has been celebrated for nearly 2000 years across the world and has been an important date in Ireland since the spread of Christianity to the island. Easter traditions are known around the world, from Easter eggs to the Easter Bunny to the much anticipated Easter egg hunt - but where do these traditions come from and why?

Read on for a closer look at some of the most popular Easter traditions and their origins.

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Easter eggs

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The Easter Bunny

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OMAFP.2013.43.121

Easter egg hunt

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Easter Greetings cards

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A woman and a boy counting eggs in front of a corn stack, W.A. Green Collection, HOYFM.WAG.299

Egg rolling

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Easter eggs

Eggs were symbolic objects in early Eastern Christianity. Pagans associated eggs with fertility and rebirth. Christians were not permitted to eat eggs, meat and dairy products during Lent, the period of fasting before Easter, so the when Easter arrived, eggs were on the menu, and often many had to be consumed before they spoiled. Some of these eggs would have been hard boiled and dyed red to symbolise the blood of Christ, a concept which spread to Britain and Ireland from the Middle East. France and Germany began the production of chocolate eggs and rabbits in the 1800s, followed by Britain in the 1870s. 

Image: Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.120
Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.120
Image: Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.120 - back
Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.120 - back

 

The Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny has been a folkloric figure and symbol of Easter since at least the 17th century. Originally a hare, a symbol of fertility in ancient times thought to be able to reproduce without a male, it brings Easter eggs to good and obedient children at the start of the season of Eastertide – the Easter period - much like Santa Claus at Christmas. Hare’s were associated with the rebirth of life in the spring, a concept brought forward by the medieval Christian Church, particularly the Germanic people, who brought the tradition to America as immigrants. Over time, the Easter Hare became the Easter Bunny we know today.

Image: BELUM.T188
BELUM.T188

 

Easter egg hunt

An egg hunt is an Eastertide game during which decorated eggs, or Easter eggs, are hidden for children to find. While its origins aren’t totally clear, as with Easter eggs, the Easter egg hunt dates back to early Christianity. As the concept of the Easter Hare grew, and parents warned their children that the Easter Hare would only visit if they were good, children would prepare small nests in hopes that the hare would leave them eggs, sometimes offering up a carrot or two in return.

Image: Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.121
Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.121
Image: Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.121 - back
Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.121 - back

 

Easter Greetings cards

As with Christmas and Valentine’s Day, the mailing of Easter postcards and greetings cards became popular in the Victorian period due to postage becoming much cheaper and more widely accessible. They often featured symbols of spring and Easter, including flowers, lambs, eggs, chick and rabbits, and served as tokens of remembrance between friends.

Image: Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.221
Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.221
Image: Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.221 - back
Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.221 - back
Image: Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.297
Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.297
Image: Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.297 - back
Postcard OMAFP.2013.43.297 - back

 

Egg rolling

Egg rolling is another traditional children’s game played at Easter whereby, usually, hard-boiled, decorated eggs are rolled down grassy hills. The tradition dates back hundreds of years in the UK, Germany, and other countries, and was brought to America by European settlers. Today, this tradition is still upheld with an Easter egg roll held on the White House lawn each year.

Image: A woman and a boy counting eggs in front of a corn stack, W.A. Green Collection, HOYFM.WAG.299
A woman and a boy counting eggs in front of a corn stack, W.A. Green Collection, HOYFM.WAG.299