Easter is one of small handful of religious holidays—the other notable one being Christmas—that is celebrated by most Americans. Though Easter itself is a specifically Christian celebration, religious and non-religious Americans celebrate the day in fairly equal numbers.
Long before Jesus Christ, according to the Christian Bible, died for mankind’s sins and then rose from the grave on the day we now know as Easter, most societies already had a holiday in place that fell at roughly the same time as Easter does today, and which rivals Easter in terms of popularity. This is because along with being the purported time that Jesus rose from the grave, the period after the first new moon of the vernal equinox has long been associated as a period of new beginning.
After a long and rough winter period, people who based their livelihoods on the environment around them—whether they be farmers or more simple hunter / gatherers—looked forward to the beginning of Spring, as it symbolized the start of another fruitful season of harvest and warm, pleasant weather, for many months to come.
For this reason Easter in America has turned into a multi-faceted celebration. Most American Christians begin the day by attending a church service. The Easter service, commemorating one of Christianity’s most joyous days, is understandably more festive than other services of the year. There tends to be more singing, less sermonizing, and an overall feeling of good will and cheer in the atmosphere.
From there, revelers return to their homes and, owing to the more secular, spring-related aspects of the Easter celebration, a great meal is prepared and enjoyed by all. This may seem like a fairly standard part of religious holidays, but with Easter, the roots of the feast part of the celebration have a much more practical, specific reason: years ago, non-Christians who were celebrating the spring season, were so confident in the fruitful harvests to come that they would prepare lavish meals, inviting all their neighbors and family members who could make the journey: the message seemed to be, “we’re soon going to have so many new resources, that we can afford to make such a great meal today.”
Another aspect of the American version of Easter celebrations is the leaving of Easter baskets. Like Santa Claus and the gifts he leaves underneath the Christmas Tree, the Easter Bunny is said to travel to the homes of children around the world, leaving baskets of candy for them on the night before Easter. And the gift giving does not always end as the children grow up. Again, like Christmas, where children receive toys when they are younger, and more “useful” gifts as they grow older, children go from receiving candy baskets on Easter morning, to receiving baskets that are a mixture of snacks and various, but useful, small gifts. Many American young people even receive Easter baskets after they leave their childhood homes, and travel away to college, receiving care packages of various essentials and knickknacks around the time of the Easter holiday.
It may seem strange that such a decisively-religious holiday would be so widely celebrated in America, and in such a wide variety of ways. But the way Americans celebrate Easter is actually rather symbolic of the country and its history as a whole: America has long been known as a melting pot of different cultures and customs, and so it only makes sense that its marking of the Easter holiday is such a mash-up of different celebratory styles.