Easter: Religious tradition turned multibillion-dollar industry
SAN JUAN — For many, Easter is a holiday to spend time with family and loved ones to reflect on religion, sacrifice, love, and unity through faith. For others, it represents either a profitable opportunity for business or a fun shopping experience, depending on where they stand on the business-consumer relationship.
In Biblical tradition, Easter is the time when Christians reminisce the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion by the Roman Empire—a tale depicted to ponder the virtues of faith and the promise of redemption.
According to the Pew Research Center, 70.6% of Americans subscribe to some representation of Christianity, with the majority identifying themselves as Evangelical Protestants. Moreover, though more than 30% of Americans don’t identify as Christians, about 80% of the general population said they planned on celebrating Easter in both 2015 and 2016.
It is worth noting that the Pew Research Center found that only 37% of Catholics and 51% of Protestants described Easter as Jesus Christ’s resurrection, while 65% of Catholics and 78% described it solely as a religious holiday or both. Out of the general population, which includes non-Christians, 42% describe it as Christ’s resurrection, while 67% classify it as a religious holiday.
However, despite the intrinsic religious connotations of Easter, this holiday has been proven to drive consumer spending. In fact, while the number of Americans who don’t identify as Christians has increased in past years, the National Retail Federation revealed that total Easter spending has seen a rise as well.
A March 2016 study by Statistic Brain, a research center used by media outlets like Forbes and CNN, shows that Americans’ total annual spending on Easter-related goods has soared to $14.6 billion. How exactly did a religious tradition become a multibillion-dollar industry?
First of all, it is important to establish that all holidays, religious or otherwise, have been stripped of their original customs and meanings to be catered and sold to the largest possible audience. Thus, because the celebration of Easter is a Christian belief, companies decided to attract non-Christian consumers by revolving the holiday around a seemingly inoffensive mascot, the Easter Bunny, as well as the “Easter egg hunt” tradition, a game in which children and adults alike must search for plastic eggs containing a prize, typically candy.
As for how the image of Jesus was replaced by a bunny, Christianity’s own pagan roots played a role. Scholars like Heather McDougall argue that the Easter holiday derives from the pagan celebration of Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of fertility whose symbol was a hare.
A 2009 report by History.com reflects that “the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Meanwhile, eggs, another symbol commonly associated to the holiday, are believed to represent fertility and the beginning of life.
Both the rabbit and eggs became easily discernible symbols for the holiday as Americans incorporated Germanic traditions, and Easter-related products depicting them have been sold as early as the 19th century, which means that, contrary to popular belief, the commercialization of Easter—and other holidays for that matter—is not a recent invention.
The same study from Statistic Brain indicates that Easter currently attracts scores of consumers, whose spending is concentrated primarily on candy. In fact, $2.1 billion were spent on Easter candy in 2015, which places the holiday second only to Halloween in terms of money spent on sweets. That same year, Americans purchased 120 million pounds of candy. In total, companies made 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies, as 70% of all candy sold during the holiday is made of chocolate.
Although the candy industry reaps the most benefits during this time, the holiday is also profitable for apparel, greeting card, flower and decoration companies, for a combined $12.5 billion in sales.
To put that into perspective, with the amount of money Americans spend on Easter annually, some $14.6 billion, it would take less than five years to pay for Puerto Rico’s public debt, which is a little under $72 billion. Bunny sells.