By Rhonda Maydwell
Rhonda Maydwell works at Veterans United and is part of the Home Buying Concierge team. She currently lives in Columbia, MO. Rhonda studied English and Religious Studies at Mizzou and is using her talents as a staff writer for GotQuestions.org. She’s also a wife, mother, and friend to many.
The week of Easter has special meaning for Christians as they recount the final days of Jesus culminating in His crucifixion and resurrection. So what do Reese’s peanut butter eggs and jelly beans have to do with Easter? Special holiday remembrances and celebrations tend to morph over the centuries; and other cultures and belief systems have impacted how many of us celebrate Easter.
In Christian traditions, celebrating Easter is rejoicing in the risen Messiah. It is acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God who ministered and discipled for three years before his arrest, death on the cross, and resurrection three days after. In the days leading up to Easter we recount Jesus’ final days and horrific death on the cross—not a murder, but a willing sacrifice for the sins of all who believe. Christians remember God’s incredible sacrifice and thank Him for it. It is to wonder anew at the subsequent resurrection of Jesus and the hope that he instills in so many.
Christian and Catholic traditions often recount specific events in the final week of Jesus’ life before his death. Known as Holy (or Passion) Week, each day has a special significance.
- Palm Sunday remembers Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding humbly on a donkey. Jesus was worshipped with shouts of “Hosanna” and palm branches laid before him as he entered Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:1-11). A week later, many of these same worshippers would be yelling, “Crucify Him!”
- Holy Monday remembers Jesus cleansing the Temple and cursing the fig tree.
- Holy Tuesday focuses on Jesus predicting his own death (see John 12:20-36).
- Spy Wednesday recounts the day Judas betrayed Jesus after Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with expensive perfume (Mathew 26:6-16).
- Maundy Thursday is the day Jesus ate Passover dinner with his disciples—the Last Supper. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples at this dinner—a task only the lowliest of servants would normally perform. Maundy comes from the Latin, meaning command, and refers to Jesus’ command for his followers to love and serve one another. Many Christians observe the Last Supper with Communion (bread and wine) and foot washing.
- Good Friday commemorates the day that Jesus was arrested, tried, scourged, crucified, and died. While there may not seem much good in the events, Christians are thankful for the willing sacrifice of Jesus that gives them new life as God’s children. Romans 5:8 exclaims, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- Holy Saturday is a day of quiet contemplation. Churches that celebrate Holy Saturday traditionally do so by observing a day of somber reflection as they contemplate the world of darkness that would exist without the hope of Christ’s resurrection.
- Resurrection Sunday is a vibrant celebration of Jesus’ victory over death, which promises believers will one day also be resurrected with Jesus. It is common to hear one believer proclaim, “He has risen!” to be followed by others with, “He has risen, indeed!”
So how do Easter egg hunts, the Easter bunny, and jelly beans fit into this reverent religious remembrance? And what does Easter mean, anyway?
What’s in a name? Some historians claim that Easter comes from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility, while others claim it comes from in albis a Latin phrase plural for alba that means “dawn” and later became eostarum in Old High German (a precursor to English).
Easter eggs. Whether coloring, hiding, rolling, or hunting Easter eggs—the origin of Easter eggs likely had nothing to do with Christianity. It’s believed that eggs represented fertility and birth in certain pagan traditions that pre-date Christianity. Egg decorating started in the 13th century and may have become part of the Easter celebration in a nod to the religious significance of Easter, i.e., Jesus’ resurrection or re-birth.
Easter Bunny. What makes less sense than an upright rodent hiding eggs laid by hens? Not much! The exact origin of the bunny who brings candies and chocolate eggs to children is unknown, but it is commonly thought to be in 1700s America, brought from German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare known as Osterhase. In many cultures, rabbits are known as, ahem, enthusiastic procreators, and thus can (kinda, sorta, if we really stretch it…) be associated with birth and renewal. Hey—I said it was a stretch!
Easter Parades began in New York City in the mid-1800s. This was a time for the wealthy to strut up and down Fifth Avenue on their way to Easter services showing off their new spring outfits and hats. I’m guessing they didn’t wash feet in their fancy duds.
Easter Lily. These flowers made their way from Japan to England to America after WWI. The traditional white Easter lilies symbolize the purity of Christ and grown from a bulb, symbolize rebirth and hope in Jesus’ resurrection.
Peeps. This candy is made by the devil to ruin Easter for children around the world. Just kidding Peeps lovers (all three of you)!
For centuries, Easter has inspired many different thoughts and customs. For Christians, it is the holiest of holidays filled with hope of life in close relationship with God thanks to His grace and the sacrifice of Jesus who offers the free gift of salvation to any who will accept it.
It is fitting that Easter occurs in the springtime. Much like spring is the time when new life buds after the death brought about in winter, so Jesus brings new life to those who were formerly dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1–10). The life Jesus brings is eternal. We celebrate the reality of His death and resurrection every day, and especially at Easter. We can trust Him and worship Him all year through because He is risen! He is risen, indeed!