Easter is a time of quiet reflection and praising a giant psychedelic rabbit who’s supposed to be Jesus. Or something. Truly, there is a lot of confusion over the Easter holiday and trying to unwrap its mysteries is a job best left to historians and learned church elders, but those dudes are lame, and so we thought we’d just do it for them with these nine facts that you probably didn’t know about Easter.
9. Not So Christian After All
Like most church holidays, Easter actually started as a pagan festival, or at least an amalgamation of several pagan festivals celebrating the coming of spring, a time of renewal, which sounds an awful lot like resurrection. The most notable of these is probably the annual three day festival celebrating the pagan goddess Cybele, whose lover died on a Friday and was reborn on a Sunday every year. Sound familiar? This festival also just so happened to take place in Rome at the same time Christianity – and its customs – was taking shape. Even the name itself is pagan. Easter is derived from the Germanic goddess of the dawn, Ēostre. But really, should any of this be that surprising in a story that begins with dudes drinking the blood and eating the flesh of their god and then that god coming back to life like a vampire? Easter is metal as hell.
8. The Date is Based on the Moon
Most people probably have no idea why we celebrate Easter when we do, or more specifically, why it’s always sort of a “floating” holiday with no fixed date. It’s because of the moon, which again seems to lend credence to the whole pagan thing, doesn’t it? To be specific, Easter is always set as the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. This was codified by the Church in 325 AD at the First Council of Nicaea and has remained this way ever since, which means that we have celebrated Easter the same way for almost 1,700 years now because some old dudes took a few seconds between arguing about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin to talk about the moon, which is basically the same way you and your pothead friends will spend this Easter. Don’t lie.
7. The Church Takes This Date Very Seriously
Back in the day, the official date of Easter was a big deal. In fact, one of the early popes, Victor I, tried to excommunicate every single bishop in Asia because they disagreed about which date Easter should fall on. In other words, the Pope condemned half the world to hell because they disagreed on the date they should all get together and color Easter eggs. Yeah. You know, just like Jesus would have done.
6. The First White House Egg Roll Took Place in 1877
One of the most cherished annual White House traditions is the Easter Egg Roll, where lots of little kids gather to roll eggs around the front yard of the White House while the NSA breaks into their houses and reads all their diaries. Okay, I might have made that last part up. Then again, maybe not. Anyway, the tradition was started by Dolly Madison, wife of President James Madison, in 1814, but it took place on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol. In 1877, the Capitol grounds were re-sodded and kids were banned from playing there by the asshole Congress. President Rutherford B. Hayes then stepped in and brought the event to the White House for the first time. The event was actually abandoned for a time during the FDR years, probably because he had things like polio, banging his mistresses and whipping up on Hitler to worry about, but it was brought back by Mamie Eisenhower, Ike’s wife, and has remained an annual tradition ever since.
5. The Easter Egg Tradition is Very Old
Coloring eggs actually goes back 60,000 years, when people used to decorate ostrich eggs because I guess there was nothing good on TV. Eventually, decorated ostrich eggs began to be left at the graves of ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, which meant that it was already an old school tradition before early Mesopotamian Christians stole it, uh, I mean adopted it for their first Easter ceremonies. To them, an egg represented a symbol of the resurrection, probably because before they were made into delicious breakfast treats, eggs were used to hatch babies. The Sumerians didn’t mess around with pastels, though. No, they died their eggs red to symbolize the blood of Jesus while he hung on the cross. Good times.
4. The Easter Bunny Tradition has Always Been Weird
Really, the whole Easter Bunny thing doesn’t make any sense at all when you really think about it, and to be honest, there is no backstory that’s going to make it seem any saner. No, if anything, its origins make it seem even crazier. The first usage of the Easter Bunny was by German Lutherans in 1682 looking for new traditions that weren’t tied to the Catholic Church they had been fussin’ and feudin’ with. Enter the Easter Hare, a giant hare whose sole responsibility was to peer into the souls of little boys and girls and judge them either good or bad. So basically like Santa Claus if Santa was a giant anthropomorphized rabbit working as Jesus’ hit man. Makes sense.
3. But Why Bunnies?
I mean, they could have chosen anything, right? A giant dog, a friendly bear, maybe a talking pig… but no, they chose bunnies. Why? Well, there are a couple of possibilities, both of which involve doin’ it. The first is that way back in the day, it was rumored that rabbits were hermaphrodites and could reproduce without boning down, which technically made them virgins, which in the fucked up heads of medieval folks made them symbols of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mom and apparently a noted hermaphrodite. The second explanation is that rabbits are easy symbols of renewal and birth and thus resurrection, mostly because they breed like crazy. So, there you have it. The Easter Bunny is either a hermaphrodite or a sex addict.
2. The Easter Wizard
Naturally, not all cultures celebrate Easter the same way, and of these, the best alternative tradition probably belongs to Sweden, which celebrates with the Easter Wizard. Apparently, this was all a big mix-up, as German immigrants brought the idea of the Easter Bunny with them to Sweden, only to find that the Swedish word for the Easter Bunny, “Påskharen”, sounds very similar to “Påskkarlen,” which means the Easter Wizard. And since the good people of Sweden have always held at least a little bit to their old pagan ways, they were totally cool with adopting Gandalf as the symbol of Easter. To this day, Easter in Sweden is closer to Halloween than anything, with people dressing as wizards and witches, and I’m guessing assorted characters from Game of Thrones. After all, Jesus died so you could cosplay.
1. It’s All About the Money
Like everything else, Easter has become an excuse to spend money, on toys, candy, old Charlton Heston movies and whatever else people can somehow tie to Jesus dying. Last year, people spent more than $17 billion on Easter, which is nearly equivalent to the total annual Gross Domestic Product of Bosnia. Over $2 billion of that will be spent on candy, which is more money than the entire country of Liberia generates in an entire year. So, basically, the giant chocolate bunny industry is more powerful economically than several African countries. Jesus would be so proud.