How are Jesus and an egg-laying rabbit linked to the first Sunday after a full moon near Passover? There are as many roots and traditions attached to Easter as there are Peeps sold every year. Take this quiz to see how much you know about the modern and ancient history surrounding this sacred holiday -- and chocolate bunnies.
Easter is called a moveable feast because the date of the holiday is different every year. Most Christian churches celebrate Easter on the first Sunday that falls after the first full moon occurring after the vernal equinox on March 21.
Orthodox Christians consult the Julian calendar, and their holiday usually takes place a week or two after most Western celebrations that follow the Gregorian calendar.
Though we maintain that Peeps are for everybody, Easter and Passover traditionally share the tasty treat of hardboiled eggs. The egg symbolizes rebirth in both Christianity and Judaism. In Christian tradition, people hunt for decorative hardboiled eggs on Easter morning. The Jewish faith celebrates by including a beitzah, aka a hard-boiled egg, on the Passover plate.
Lent is observed during the 40 days that lead up to Easter Sunday, which represents the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the wild thinking about his ministry and overcoming many temptations. This is why the Lenten season is one of reflection and penance -- observers usually give up a vice for 40 days.
Maundy Thursday occurs during Holy Week -- the week leading up to Easter Sunday. There are many special occasions during Holy Week, and Maundy Thursday commemorates the last supper Jesus had with his disciples.
In Catholic tradition, Good Friday honors the crucifixion of Christ and meat is not allowed at meals. Fish is exempt, though, and many families cook their favorite seafood dishes, ranging from gumbo to tuna casserole.
Remember when we said the Easter Sunday date was based on the vernal equinox? Well, the vernal equinox is the first day of Spring, which represents fertility and includes symbols like eggs and quickly multiplying bunnies. Christianity brought new traditions and symbols to the celebration, but also retained some of these old symbols.
The Germans are thought to be responsible for the American Easter Bunny tradition. Lore has it that in the 1700s, a group of German immigrants brought with them the story of the “Osterhase,” an egg-laying hare. On Easter morning, their kids would make nests for the bunny to leave its eggs in.
Much like the Christmas tradition, some kids leave carrots for the Easter Bunny to help him refuel after hopping across the world in one day.
Some stories say that Easter eggs became popular in the 13th century because eggs were not allowed during Lenten season. To celebrate the end of Lent, people would decorate eggs and give them to their friends and family. Then they would eat them on Easter Sunday to celebrate the end of penance and fasting.
This annual event was first held in 1878 when Rutherford B. Hayes was President. The Easter egg roll takes place on the lawn of the White House on the Monday after Easter. Kids compete to roll eggs across the lawn to win prizes. (Though just being invited to the White House seems like a prize in itself!)
Halloween boast the biggest sales of holiday candy, but Easter comes in second place. According to the National Retail Federation, at least $2 billion a year is spent on Easter candy.
Jelly beans were linked with Easter in the 1930s, though the Jelly Belly company claims the treat's history goes back to Biblical times when Middle Easterners enjoyed a treat called Turkish delight. The ancient sweet was originally a citrus, honey and rose water gel. Eventually Americans started molding it into an egg shape and gave it a hard shell (and lots of other flavors), thus creating the modern jelly bean.
Though the Just Born company has been creating candy since it was founded in 1923 by Sam Born, the yellow marshmallow chicks known at Peeps weren’t born until the 1950s. Peeps are most popular at Easter, and each Easter season, enough Peeps are sold to span the Earth’s circumference more than once.
No, hollow chocolate bunnies weren’t created to teach children an Easter lesson about disappointment. Hollow bunnies were simply easier to eat. Biting into a rock-solid chunk of chocolate might break your teeth -- a nice hollow interior makes for less dental repair. It’s also less expensive to produce -- which means bigger profits for candy companies, since the chocolate bunny is the No. 1-selling Easter candy.
People love to bite the head off of their bunnies. According to the National Confectioners Association, 76 percent of folks go for the ears first for maximum impact. A mere 5 percent gnaw on the feet first and 4 percent chomp on bunny’s tail.
Irving Berlin wrote the music for “Easter Parade,” a lively musical about a dance team that breaks up right before Easter. The leading man, Fred Astaire, vows to make his new teammate, Judy Garland, a star before next year’s Easter parade.
Though Easter bonnets are a key player in any good Easter parade, this tradition started simply with families strolling down the main avenue of their town after church, socializing and showing off their Easter outfits. Eventually the public started showing up to see the display, and thus a parade was born. This fashionable tradition continues in Manhattan on 5th Avenue every Easter Sunday.
Bulgarians don’t bother hiding their eggs -- they toss them around in an egg fight. Whoever ends up with an unbroken egg wins and is said to have good luck for the next year.
In Greece, many towns host a public procession where people carry red eggs to symbolize the blood of Christ. They tap the eggs together when one person exclaims “Christ is risen,” and another person replies “truly He is risen.” With that much tapping going on, those better be hard-boiled eggs!