Some symbols of Easter make perfect sense: crosses, for example, represent Jesus Christ and his crucifixion. Other symbols, though, like eggs and bunnies, are not as easy to interpret. Learn about the history and customs of the infamous Easter Bunny, and then decide how to incorporate his story into your own celebration.
Easter & Pagan Rituals
To understand how the Easter Bunny came to be, we first have to understand the true history of Easter. This holiday is not just a Christian occasion; it goes back to ancient pagan rituals for fertility. The official anniversary of Christ’s resurrection was purposely aligned with the spring equinox, for a variety of reasons. Some believe this was done to make the holiday a joint celebration between religious factions; others feel that it was timed to diminish the importance of pagan rituals that were in competition with the Christian church. Regardless of why, spring and Easter are now linked forever.
This connection makes it easier to understand where some of the seemingly random Easter symbols came from. Spring is the time of year when flowers bloom, the snow melts, and the animals are feeling amorous. Spring’s fertility has been essential to human survival since the very beginning. Fertile skies rain down the water that crops and animals need to thrive. These plants and animals become food, fuel, commerce, and transport for human beings. Ancient man also prayed for fertile animals – including humans. Baby animals meant more food and resources for early people, and baby humans meant more hands to work the land. With all of this in mind, is it any wonder that our ancestors were so concerned with spring?
The symbols chosen by early man are all clear representations of fertility. The egg is the very core of where life begins; creatures of land, air, and sea all produce offspring via eggs. The egg also resembles the moon, which was associated with seasons of fertility. Easter flowers are a common present, because blossoming flowers are a clear symbol of spring. Rabbits and hares are other symbols of fertility that make sense … because bunnies sure do like to breed! But how did we go from litters of baby bunnies to an egg-laying mythical creature? It starts with Lent, a period of fasting wherein eggs were forbidden for devout Catholics. Once Easter arrived, eggs were on the menu once again. People celebrated with decorated eggs and egg-based meals, but some didn’t enjoy the mandatory fasting period beforehand.
Appearance of the Easter Bunny
German Protestants decided to retain the egg aspects of Easter, but they did away with fasting for Lent. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area brought the legend of “Osterhase” with them to America in the 1800s. Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!
Today’s Easter Bunny
From there, the Easter Bunny took form as an official symbol of the holiday. His appeal is similar to that of Santa Claus: both visit secretly, bringing toys and treats as a reward for good behavior. Easter and Christmas also share another trait: the inevitable consumerism that has overtaken them in some homes. For many families, these holy Christian days are now all about spending money on lavish decorations and indulgent presents. No matter how – or what – you celebrate, we hope that you incorporate the Easter Bunny into spring 2011. This timeless figure is a source of intrigue and delight for children – and adults!