Eggs, Chocolate and Bunnies – The History of Easter Celebrations

Easter in the UK is a mixture of pagan and Christian traditions (inevitably with the addition of commercialism) and was originally a pagan celebration named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring, Eostre. Later, it was adopted by Christians to mark the crucifixion and rebirth of Jesus and is the most important date in the Christian calendar.

Throughout history, people across the world have given each other eggs at spring festivals to mark the season. During Lent, when Christians fasted to mark Jesus’ time in the wilderness, eggs were one of the food people weren’t allowed to eat (this is why we make pancakes on Shrove Tuesday). So, any eggs laid during Holy Week (the final week of Lent) were saved and decorated to make them Holy Week eggs, that were then given to children as gifts.

Victorians adapted the tradition of egg gifting with satin-covered cardboard eggs which were filled with Easter gifts. In 1873 the first English chocolate egg as we know it today was sold by Fry’s. Since then, they’ve become hugely popular, with 80 million sold in the UK each year.

Another tradition is visits from the Easter Bunny, which is connected to Pagan traditions and is thought to have become common in the 19th century. In the 1700s, German children would build nests and leave carrots out for the ‘Osterhase’ – the Easter Bunny. Legend has it that the Easter Bunny lays, decorates and hides eggs for good children.

Rabbits are well known to reproduce large litters in quick succession, so they are seen as a symbol of fertility and new life, which is why they are strongly associated to Easter – a time many look forward to new beginnings.

Other traditions such as hosting an Easter feast, hunting for Easter eggs, enjoying a buttery hot cross bun or donning an Easter bonnet all have a history of their own, and will continue to be enjoyed and evolve for years to come.