You may know the Pennsylvania Dutch are responsible for many of our Christmas traditions, but did you know some of our most popular Easter customs stem from our early settlers? As Easter approaches, it’s the perfect time to review the PA Dutch Easter practices that are now part of our celebrations.
In Germany, the Easter rabbit is actually called Oschter Haws, meaning Easter Hare. Once settled in their new home, the PA Dutch substituted the rabbit for hares since they are far more common in North America. Because rabbits and hares reproduce quickly, they became symbols of fertility in pre-Christian or pagan cultures. In fact, the word Easter comes from the name of the pagan goddess of spring, Ostara. Tales of Ostara depict her driving a cart pulled by rabbits and hares while in others she took the form of these creatures. It is no wonder Easter traditions grew around rabbits and eggs.
In the 1800s, PA Dutch children made nests for the Easter bunny. While they slept, the Easter bunny placed colored eggs in the nests, but only in those prepared by good children! Eggs were colored of dyed by hard-boiling them with onion skins, cabbage leaves, tree bark and other natural materials. After dyeing, the eggs were sometimes decorated by scratching them with a pin or knife after. Never wasteful, the PA Dutch would eat the hardboiled eggs or give the decorated ones away as Easter gifts.
In Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, both the Kutztown Folk Festival and the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University provide great opportunities for visitors to experience PA Dutch life. The folk festival is held annually in early July, while the cultural heritage center offers seasonal events like Heemet Fescht, Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas, and their annual Easter on the Farm. It’s interesting to think the frugal, hardworking PA Dutch influenced so many of our Easter and Christmas holiday traditions.
This blog was originally posted on April 4, 2017