The Origins of 11 Easter Traditions

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Come Sunday, many people will find themselves scouring their yards for plastic eggs and gnawing the ears off of chocolate rabbits. What possesses us to do such strange things? Pagan rituals and old superstitions, mostly. Here are the reasons behind 11 of our favorite Easter traditions.

1. DYEING EASTER EGGS

The tradition of decorating eggs of all kinds—even ostrich eggs—may go all the way back to the ancient pagans. It’s easy to see why eggs represent rebirth and life, so associating them with spring and new growth isn’t much of a stretch. To celebrate the new season, it’s said that people colored eggs and gave them to friends and family as gifts.

When Christians came along, they likely incorporated the tradition into their celebrations. According to some legends, Mary or Mary Magdalene could be responsible for our annual trek to the store to buy vinegar and dye tablets. As the story goes, Mary brought eggs with her to Jesus’ crucifixion, and blood from his wounds fell on the eggs, coloring them red. Another tells us that Mary Magdalene brought a basket of cooked eggs to share with other women at Jesus’ tomb three days after his death. When they rolled back the stone and found the tomb empty, the eggs turned red.

2. THE EASTER BUNNY

At first glance, it’s hard to imagine what a giant rabbit has to do with any type of religious holiday. But according to Time, the tradition again dates back to the pagans. They celebrated a goddess of fertility named Eostre—and you may recall that fertility is exactly the trait rabbits are most famous for. It’s thought that German immigrants brought their tradition of an egg-laying hare called "Osterhase" to the U.S. in the 1700s.

3. HOLLOW CHOCOLATE BUNNIES

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Now that we know why Easter is associated with rabbits, little chocolate leporidae actually make sense. But why are so many of them hollow inside? As it turns out, it’s not just to get kids used to disappointment at a young age. According to the R.M. Palmer company, one of the oldest makers of chocolate bunnies in the U.S., the empty insides are really just in consideration of your teeth. "If you had a larger-size bunny and it was solid chocolate, it would be like a brick; you’d be breaking teeth," Mark Schlott, executive vice-president of operations, told Smithsonian.

Of course, there’s also the "wow" factor—confectioners can make a larger, more impressive-looking bunny for a reasonable price if there’s nothing inside of it.

4. EASTER BASKETS

If you squint at an Easter basket, especially one stuffed with faux shredded grass, you can totally see its origins as a nest. Remember the German Osterhase tradition? Well, there was more to it—to encourage this mythical bunny to stop by their houses, children would fashion nests for it to come and lay its colored eggs. Over time (and maybe to contain the mess), the nests evolved into baskets.

5. HOT CROSS BUNS

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Like the bunny and the eggs, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when people started making hot cross buns—sweet rolls studded with raisins or currants and marked with a cross on top—during the week leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s said the tradition started in the 12th century with a monk who was inspired to mark his rolls to celebrate Good Friday.

The first written record we have of them dates back to an issue of Poor Robin’s Almanac from the 1730s: "Good Friday comes this Month, the old woman runs, With one or two a Penny, hot cross Bunns [sic]."

6. EASTER FASHION PARADES

There’s an old superstition that wearing new clothes on Easter means good luck for the rest of the year. You could say it has something to do with rebirth and renewal, but mostly, it sounds like an excuse to go shopping. Either way, fancy new finery deserves to be seen for more than 60 minutes during Easter services, so in the mid-1800s, parishioners in New York arranged themselves into a little post-church fashion show as they left their Fifth Avenue churches. The tradition continues today, though the term "finery" seems to be a bit broader now.

7. SUNRISE SERVICES

As the story goes, Mary opened Jesus’s tomb at dawn on Easter morning to find it empty. In honor of the occasion, many churches hold services at sunrise so parishioners can experience the event similar to how it happened. The first one on record was held in 1732 in Saxony, Germany, by a group of young men. The next year, the entire congregation attended the early-morning ceremony, and soon, the sunrise service had caught on across the country. By 1773, sunrise services had spread to the U.S.—the first was held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

8. EASTER HAM

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Believe it or not, even that juicy ham on your dining room table dates back to pagan rituals honoring spring and the goddess Eostre. The tradition goes back to at least 6th-century Germany, according to Bruce Kraig, the founder of the Culinary Historians of Chicago. Hunters often slaughtered hogs in the forest in the fall, then left them to cure all winter. By spring, pork was one of the only meats ready to go for spring celebrations. As with other pagan rituals, Christianity adapted the tradition for their own needs as the religion spread.

9. GOOD FRIDAY KITES

If you happen to find yourself in Bermuda on Good Friday, you may be surprised to see legions of kites dotting the sky. According to local legend, a teacher once used a kite to give her students a visual of how Jesus ascended into heaven. The analogy quickly caught on, and today, flying a simple kite made of tissue paper and sticks is still a colorful pastime.

10. EGG KNOCKING

Also known as egg tapping or egg jarping, egg knocking is a sport where two competitors tap the pointed ends of their eggs against each other to see which one cracks and which one "survives." The game apparently goes back to medieval Europe, but when it comes to modern-day egg knocking, Marksville, Louisiana, is uncrackable. Since 1956, local families have gathered at the courthouse square on Easter Sunday to battle their eggs. Some families even prepare months in advance, giving their chickens special feed in hopes of producing stronger eggs.

11. OSTERBRUNNEN

Immanuel Giel, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The German tradition of Osterbrunnen—decorating public wells and fountains with elaborate greenery and Easter egg décor—only began about a century ago. It’s said that German villagers wanted to honor both Easter and the gift of water, which also represents life and renewal. Neighboring villages began to compete to see which of them could create the most fanciful fountains, and by 1980, approximately 200 villages were participating in the event. It’s even spread stateside—the town of Frankenmuth, a Bavarian-style village in Michigan, has adopted the Osterbrunnen tradition in the month surrounding Easter.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

6 Strange Maritime Mysteries

Neville Mountford-Hoare/iStock via Getty Images
Neville Mountford-Hoare/iStock via Getty Images

The oceans cover over 70 percent of our planet, so it's little wonder that their seemingly impenetrable depths have provided a series of fascinating mysteries, from missing ships to eerie monsters. Below are six mysteries of the deep—some of which scientists think they've at least partly explained, while others remain truly puzzling.

  1. The Mary Celeste

On December 5, 1872, the crew of the British ship the Dei Gratia spotted a vessel bobbing about 400 miles off the coast of the Azores. They approached the Mary Celeste to offer help, but after boarding the ship were shocked to find it completely unmanned. The crew had disappeared without a trace, their belongings still stowed in their quarters, six months' worth of food and drink untouched, and the valuable cargo of industrial alcohol still mostly in place. The only clues were three and a half feet of water in the hold, a missing lifeboat, and a dismantled pump. It was the beginning of an enduring mystery concerning what happened to the crew, and why they abandoned a seemingly sea-worthy vessel.

Numerous theories have been suggested, including by crime writer Arthur Conan Doyle, who penned a short story in 1884 suggesting the crew had fallen victim to an ex-slave intent on revenge. A more recent theory has pointed the finger at rough seas and the broken pump, arguing they forced the captain to issue an order to abandon ship. Since the missing crew have never been traced, it seems unlikely that there will ever be a satisfying answer to the enigma.

  1. The Yonaguni Monument

An underwater area known as the Twin Megaliths at the Yonaguni Monument
An area known as the Twin Megaliths at the Yonaguni Monument
Vincent Lou, Wikimedia // CC BY 2.0

In 1986, a diver looking for a good spot to watch hammerhead sharks off the coast of the Ryukyu Islands in Japan came across an extraordinary underwater landscape. The area reportedly looked like an ancient submerged village, with steps, holes, and triangles seemingly carved into the rocks. Ever since it was first discovered, controversy has surrounded the site that's become known as the Yonaguni Monument, with some researchers—such as marine geologist Masaaki Kimura—arguing it is a clearly manmade environment, perhaps a city thousands of years old and sunk in one of the earthquakes that plagues the region. Others believe it's a natural geological phenomenon reflecting the stratigraphy (layers) of sandstone in an area with tectonic activity. The area is open to scuba divers, so the really curious can strap on air tanks and decide for themselves.

  1. The Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle has probably spawned more wild theories, column inches, and online discussion than any other ocean mystery—more than 50 ships and 20 aircraft are said to have vanished there. Although the triangle has never officially been defined, by some accounts it covers at least 500,000 square miles and lies between Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

The mystery first caught the public imagination in December 1945 when Flight 19, consisting of five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo bombers and their 14 crewmembers, were lost without a trace during a routine training operation in the area. Interest was further piqued when it was later reported that one of the search-and-rescue planes dispatched to find the missing team had also disappeared. Articles and books such as Charles Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle, first published in 1974 and having since sold over 20 million copies in 30 languages, have served to keep the mystery alive, providing potential theories both natural and supernatural. Scientists—and world-renowned insurers Lloyd’s of London—have attempted to debunk the myth of the Bermuda Triangle, offering evidence that the rate of disappearance in the vast and busy triangle is no higher than other comparable shipping lanes, but such is the power of a good story that this is one story that seems likely to continue to fascinate.

  1. The Kraken

A model of a giant squid on display at the Natural History Museum in London in 1907
A model of a giant squid on display at the Natural History Museum in London in 1907
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

For hundreds of years, sailors told tales of an enormous sea creature with huge tentacles known as the Kraken. Stories around the mythical kraken first started appearing in Scandinavia in the 12th century, and in 1555 Swedish cartographer Olaus Magnus provided an account of a sea creature with “sharp and long Horns round about, like a Tree root up by the Roots: They are ten or twelve cubits long, very black, and with huge eyes.” The stories persisted, often mentioning a creature so large it resembled an island. In his 1755 book The Natural History of Norway, Danish historian Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan described the kraken as “incontestably the largest Sea monster in the world."

Scientists have proposed that these stories might derive from sightings of giant squid (Architeuthis dux), although evidence for an even larger, yet extremely elusive, colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) has also come to light. The colossal squid is found in the deepest part of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, and is thought to be up to 46 feet long and 1100 pounds. The problem is that the animal is so rare very few specimens have been found intact, and no live specimen has ever been observed, which means that estimating its exact size is difficult. Researchers have also noticed that sperm whales have been observed with large scars, and have suggested that these could be the result of violent encounters with the colossal squid, which is known to have sharp rotating hooks on the ends of their tentacles.

  1. The Treasure of the Merchant Royal

The remains of the Merchant Royal are known as one of the richest shipwrecks ever. The ship set sail from the New World in 1641 laden with 100,000 pounds of gold, 400 Mexican silver bars, and thousands of precious gems—in total, a haul thought to be worth $1.3 billion today. The ship got caught in a storm and was thought to have gone down somewhere off the coast of Cornwall, England. The lost wreck became known as the “el Dorado of the seas” due to the enormous value of its cargo, and over the years numerous treasure hunters have searched fruitlessly for its final resting place, which remains undiscovered. In 2019 fishermen snagged what is thought to be the anchor from the Merchant Royal, but to date the dangerous conditions and extreme depths at which the wreck is thought to lie have meant it has remained unclaimed.

  1. Attack of the Sea Foam

In December 2011, residents of Cleveleys, England, awoke to what appeared to be a soft blanket of snow. But as locals ventured out into the streets it soon became clear that this was no snowstorm, but instead something far more puzzling. Trees, cars, roads, and houses were all wrapped in a thick, white layer of foam. The Environment Agency were quickly deployed to take samples of the sea foam, since residents were understandably concerned as to the origin of the strange, gloopy substance, fearing it might be caused by pollutants.

The dramatic images of the foam-soaked town soon had journalists flocking to the region to investigate the phenomena, but as quickly as it appeared the foam disappeared, leaving behind only a salty residue. Scientists analyzing the foam confirmed it was not caused by detergents, and instead suspected that it was caused by a rare combination of decomposing algae out at sea and strong winds, which whipped up the viscous foam and blew it into land. The phenomena has apparently occurred at other times before and since, and researchers are now working to try and understand the exceptional conditions that cause it to form so that residents can be warned when another thick blanket is set to descend.

Bonus: The Bloop—Mystery Solved

Over the years, the oceans have produced a number of eerie and often unexplained sounds. In 1997, researchers from NOAA listening for underwater volcanic activity using hydrophones (underwater microphones) noticed an extremely loud, powerful series of noises in the Pacific Ocean. The unusual din excited researchers, who soon named it “The Bloop” in reference to its unique sound.

Theories abounded as to the origin of the bloop—secret military facility, reverberations from a ship’s engine, or an enormous sea creature. The most fanciful suggestion stem from H. P. Lovecraft fans who noticed that the noise came from an area off South America where the sci-fi writer’s fictional sunken city of R’lyeh was supposed to be. They proposed that the bloop might have originated from Lovecraft’s “dead but dreaming” sea creature, Cthulhu. In 2005, however, scientists found that the mysterious sound was in fact the noise made by an icequake—or an iceberg shearing off from a glacier.

10 Clever Stranger Things Season 3 Easter Eggs You Might Have Missed

Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things.
Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things.
Netflix

Warning: This story includes spoilers for all aired episodes of Stranger Things.

After waiting nearly two years for the latest season of Stranger Things, most fans couldn’t help but binge all eight episodes in a row. But now that we know how it all went down, with Billy Hargrove being taken over by the Mind Flayer and Jim Hopper’s tragic (maybe) death, it's time for us to reprocess the season ... and rewatch it all over again.

While giving the season a second watch, keep an eye out for all the clever Easter eggs sprinkled into each episode, including several references to classic 1980s movies, earlier Stranger Things episodes, and unexpected connections we had never imagined were possible.

1. Peter Gabriel could be hinting at a major plot twist.

Arguably the most heartbreaking scene in Stranger Things history came in the final episode of season 3, “The Battle of Starcourt,” when Eleven reads the scrapped letter Hopper wrote for her and Mike. Viewers at home cried along with Millie Bobby Brown's character as she prepared for life without her “dad,” but one element in the scene might be a hint that Hopper isn’t really dead.

The song that starts playing just as Eleven finishes up reading the letter is Peter Gabriel’s cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” which is the same rendition of the song that played in the season 1 episode “Holly, Jolly,” when it was believed that Will had been killed. Of course, he turned out to be very much alive, meaning the same could (hopefully) happen for Hopper.

2. Jim Hopper is channeling Martin Brody.

Stranger Things has never shied away from paying homage to classic movies. And Redditor LucasLeArtist noticed that one of Hopper's season 3 lines was a direct quote from Jaws. When Hopper is about to leave Enzo’s after Joyce stands him up, he’s told he can’t take the alcohol with him, to which he drunkenly responds, “I can do anything I want, I’m chief of police.” This mimics a scene in Jaws where Chief Brody said the same line before taking a swig of his drink.

3. Murray Bauman’s phone number is real.

Brett Gelman, Natalia Dyer, and Charlie Heaton in Stranger Things
Netflix

One of the more eccentric characters in Stranger Things, Murray Bauman, turned out to be extremely helpful this season, as he served as translator for Hopper and the Russian scientist Alexei. In one scene, Murray’s phone number is shown—and it turns out that it's a working phone number ... which does indeed belong to Murray. As CNET reported, when you dial 618-625-8313, you get a lengthy, and hilarious, answering machine message from the character.

4. Billy Hargrove’s nod to Stand By Me.

While Billy Hargrove surprisingly turned into a character you felt sorry for by the end of season 3, his scenes in the first episode proved he was still just as much of a bully as he was in season 2. One example of this is when he’s lifeguarding and yells at a kid for running by the pool. Billy calls him a “lard-ass,” which doesn’t just remind you of how mean of a person he is, but is also a borrowed line from Rob Reiner's classic 1986 film Stand By Me. As IndieWire pointed out, that particular insult was famously used in the movie during the scene in which Gordie tells his friends a memorable story about a pie-eating contest.

5. Dustin Henderson is crushing on Phoebe Cates.

When Dustin returns to Hawkins from camp, he shocks everyone with the reveal that he now has a girlfriend. Of course, the first reaction from his friends (Steve included) is that she isn’t real. Dustin keeps the story going, however, telling everyone that her name is Suzy and that she's better looking than Phoebe Cates—as in the actress best known for her role in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In the season’s final episode, we learn that Suzy is indeed real. And when Robin is trying to get Steve a job at the video store, he falls into a cardboard cutout of Cates as Linda Barrett (her Fast Times character) before stopping to admire it.

6. Dustin and Robin recreated a scene from 1992's Sneakers.

A Twitter user pointed out an unexpected callback to the 1992 River Phoenix film Sneakers, as Dustin and Robin recreate one of its scenes when getting the “complete blueprints” of the Starcourt Mall. It's almost word-for-word, with the only difference being that in Sneakers, they’re looking at the Playtronics Corporate Headquarters.

7. Eleven visits the house from A Nightmare on Elm Street.

During Eleven’s scariest venture into the Void this season, she tries to find the missing lifeguard Heather. As she approaches Heather's home, the red door is reminiscent of the house that belonged to Nancy Thompson’s family in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. A Twitter user claimed the number on both doors was the same, but Stranger Things changed it by one number, as Heather lives at 1438. We’re not sure if they had to change it because of legal matters or if was just a coincidence—but in a show full of horror movie references, the similarity would seem a little too coincidental.

8. Steve Harrington can't keep his Michael J. Fox projects straight.

When Dustin, Erica, Steve, and Robin manage to escape the Russians in the seventh episode, “The Bite,” they end up in the movie theater at the mall, which is showing Back to the Future (1985). Steve and Robin soon leave, and while very high—and trying to analyze what they just watched—Robin hilariously says she’s pretty sure “that mom was trying to bang her son,” referring to Marty McFly and his mom, Lorraine. A confused Steve replies, “Wait, wait, the hot chick was Alex P. Keaton’s mom?” Alex P. Keaton, of course, was the name of Michael J. Fox’s character in the hit NBC series Family Ties, not Back to the Future.

9. "Weird" Al Yankovic's Reality Bites link.

In episode 2, “The Mall Rats,” Winona Ryder's Joyce ends up ditching Hopper to go find the kids’ science teacher Mr. Clarke, only to find him jamming out to "Weird" Al Yankovic’s parody song “My Bologna.” A Twitter user pointed out that this could be a nod to 1994’s Reality Bites, which features a memorable scene of Ryder dancing to the original song, “My Sharona.” Ethan Hawke is also in the scene, who is the real-life dad of Maya Hawke, who plays Robin in Stranger Things.

10. The post-credits scene that hints at Hopper's survival.

Perhaps the most important detail in the entire season comes during the post-credits scene, which includes another major hint that Hopper is still alive. Viewers are taken to the Russian base, where prisoners are being fed to the Demogorgon. One soldier then says, “No, not the American,” before moving on to the next person held captive. Fans are convinced the American would have to be Hopper, although there are plenty of theories floating around about other Americans that character could be. Now we’ll just have to wait until season 4, which has not been announced yet, to know who it is for sure.

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