The tradition of having eggs in the spring pre-dates Christianity quite a bit. Ancient history indicates that eggs have long been a symbol of rebirth or new life and, as with many fun pagan traditions, Christians decided to adopt the egg as a symbol of the resurrection. Some religions long ago forbade the consumption of eggs during Lent, so they were boiled for preservation, decorated, and celebrated at Easter (the end of the Lenten season).
The Easter Bunny (and its treats)
The Easter Bunny was originally a hare (there’s a difference!). Though the bunny rabbit and hare are both symbols of fertility, it was the hare that was linked to Easter due to an ancient theory that hares were hermaphrodites capable of virgin births. Europeans started the tradition of a hare that brings colored eggs to good boys and girls, leaving the gifts in “nests” made from their caps and bonnets. Eventually, the tradition switched to nests in baskets appropriate to use for Easter egg hunting (this is why we put plastic grass in our baskets). There’s a bit more to this, but I already wasted too much time falling down the rabbit hole (hurr hurr) of Wikipedia.
Naturally, the addition of chocolate eggs was initiated by enterprising chocolatiers and confectioners in Europe in the 1800s to encourage sales. As chocolate became easier to make and more affordable, the tradition spread. Believed to be the descendent of Turkish delight, the jelly bean became associated with Easter simply due to its ovoid nature. As for Peeps, I can’t find any documented reason the marshmallow chicks became one of the most popular Easter treats. Though they now make bunnies as well as a variety of other shapes.
Hot Cross Buns
The hot cross bun, typically eaten on Good Friday (or throughout Lent), is another tradition that Christians appear to have adopted from pagans. It’s said that the bun’s cross was originally to quarter the bun with regard to the four quarters of the moon. The Christians re-interpreted it as the cross of the crucifixion. Hot cross buns aren’t a part of my family’s tradition, though I do remember the nursery rhyme.
Though it’s no longer a tradition in which I partake, the Easter ham was always a fixture of my family's Easter feast. Again, there’s no definitive reason, though like many traditions, it’s likely it’s one of convenience as hams are fairly easy to procure in this part of the country and those cured in the fall were ready to eat by Easter. That is, if they weren’t all eaten on New Year’s day. But ham is generally associated with luck, as the lamb is associated with sacrifice. Lambs just weren’t among the foods of my Tennessee-farming ancestors.
So, these are the food traditions I’m familiar with as a garden-variety Tennessee Anglo-Celt. I know there are many more Russian, Polish, German and many other ethnic treats associated with Easter as well. What are the big ones I’m missing? And, more importantly, if there's a special treat to be had in Nashville, be sure to share the information. I'm up for adding traditions.