BLOG: Five Easter traditions and where they come from
30 March 2017
It may seem strange to us today, but we have the Victorians to thank for many of our popular Easter traditions (although of course, Easter altogether has much older origins).
Before Victoria became Queen of England in 1837, the emphasis for Easter was on Lent and fasting but by the time she became Queen, Easter became more of a celebration period – a time of Easter fairs and various other traditions. We look at some of the most popular traditions and their origins.
1. Easter egg hunt
An early 20th century card depicting an 'Eastertide' egg hunt
Easter egg hunts were brought over from Germany to England during this period. Bromsgrove-born scholar and poet Alfred Housman noted the novelty in a lecture at UCL in 1892 when he said that "in Germany at Easter time they hide coloured eggs about the house and garden that the children may amuse themselves in discovering them."
2. Easter bunny
An early 20th century depiction of the Easter bunny interacting with children.
At least since the 17th century the idea of the Easter Bunny as a bringer of eggs has been known. He has his origins among German Lutherans and originally he played more of a Santa-like role – he was a judgemental little fellow and only good children would be treated with brightly coloured eggs in his basket. In the 18th century the idea of an egg-giving hare became popular, spreading via German emigrants to Europe and beyond.
3. Egg rolling
Egg rolling competitions taking place on the Museum's main street, in keeping with tradition.
Egg rolling is a traditional game played at Easter and has probably been played since ancient times. In fact, in the UK it used to be known as ‘pace-egging’. The eggs were traditionally wrapped in onion skins and boiled to give them a mottled gold appearance (although today they are usually painted) and the children competed to see who could roll their egg the furthest. Naturally, egg rolling became associated with Easter when the egg did – this was cemented in the Victorian period when celebrating Easter became popular in society. Throughout Easter at BCLM we have egg rolling competitions of our own for children to take part it in, though of course the eggs are rubber so as to avoid chaos!
4. Chocolate eggs
An early 20th century card depicting Easter eggs.
Easter would simply not be Easter without a big chocolate egg to enjoy! As eggs became associated with Easter as a Christian festival (which are to some extent adaptations of ancient pagan practices), chocolate eggs were increasingly given as gifts. Chocolate Easter eggs first occur in the Victorian period, with France and Germany taking the lead in producing them. Initially they would have been a rather luxurious item, as you can imagine how painstaking it would have been to line the first hollow moulds with paste chocolate one at a time! Chocolate Easter eggs were sold throughout the UK during the Victorian period but were briefly known as ‘French-style’ chocolate eggs (Cadbury’s launched theirs in 1875).
5. Easter greetings
A late 19th century card depicting two Easter hares trying on Easter bonnets.
Mailing novelty cards and postcards for various celebrations (Christmas and Valentine’s Day, for example) became popular in the Victorian period due to Royal Mail becoming much cheaper and more widely available. So it’s no surprise then that as various symbols of Easter became more prominent (chicks, eggs, rabbits etc) that they found themselves on cards and postcards. We have a wonderful collection here at the Museum.
Fancy stepping back in time and discovering a traditional Black Country Easter? Visit us for our Egg-Citing Easter Activities (Sat 7 - Sun 23 April).
Come see the Tug Boats