If you are like me than you have got to love the Holidays; my two personal favourites would have to definitely be Christmas and Thanksgiving. These great times bring all of my friends and family together and it is a lot of fun to share their company and to, of course, share with them the great meals that come along with these holidays as well. Yes the holidays are a great traditional time; another great holiday would have to be the celebration of Easter.
Easter, as with Christmas, is a holiday that is based out of the Christian religion. For people of the Christian faith, the religious faith that our Western culture is based upon and is also the religion of millions around the world, traditional holidays like Christmas and Easter have very special meanings and are a celebration of certain things that have to do with their faith. Christmas, as its name sake would indicate is of course the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and the events surrounding his birth. Easter, in a similar fashion, is a celebration of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ. This event in Christianity is what allows Christians to have the faith in Christ as their personal Saviour. However, when many people in our society think about these two holidays they might not have the same association with them. For most people, I will let you be the judge of whether or not this is sad or not, when they think of Christmas they do not think about Christ at all but rather they think about “SANTA CLAUS” and “PRESENTS” and “CHRISTMAS TREES” and “CANDY CANES”. All of these things did have their start in the Christian realm as well but I do not have time to get into all of these things right now. In a similar way when people think about Easter they do not think about the Christian traditions that it is based on but rather they think about the “EASTER BUNNY” and “EASTER EGGS” and “EASTER EGG HUNTS” and “CHOCOLATE BUNNIES”. The reason for these different associations by people is because of the job of advertising and the commercialization of these holidays, making them less like religious holidays and more like secular pop-culture esc holidays. You see companies and advertisers recognized these holidays to be times when people were getting together and sometimes giving each other gifts and so they began to focus on these elements making people think that this was the whole point of these holidays was, in a sense, and they have technically succeeded. In order to better understand these holidays and how they came to this point where they were no longer about Christian religious traditions it is a good idea to look at what they are best associated with, so in the case of Easter, we should look at the “EASTER BUNNY”.
Let’s take a look at the Easter figure head of the Easter Bunny. Where did this character come from and what does it represent?
History of the EASTER BUNNY: Who is he?
The idea of the Easter Bunny comes from early pagan (these are worldly or secular, no religious association with any particular one deity like Christianity has) traditions. The Easter traditions of the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs do not have any real ties to the Christian celebration of Easter but rather these Easter traditions, that are practiced today, are evolved from pagan symbols. The timing of the Christian celebration of Easter (to Christians this word represents the time frame and the events revolving around Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection) is around the time of the vernal equinox, which is linked historically with a pagan celebration that coincides with the arrival of spring. This pagan celebration also symbolizes the arrival of light and the awakening of the life around us, the idea of spring bringing new life, etc. Even the name “Easter” itself has its basis in pagan traditions. The name is spawned from the Saxon goddess of Eastre (or Oestre or Ostara) who was the goddess of the dawn and the spring. Eastre, was of course, a fertility goddess who brought an end to winter making days longer and brighter with a passion for “new life”. Eastre’s presence could be felt by all in the spring as the newly flowering plants, and the new births of babies both human and animal were happening all around. This is where we start to see the formation of the “EASTER BUNNY” because the animal associated with this goddess as her sacred animal was the RABIT because of this animal’s well known rapid production and fertility prosperity. Easter eggs and “Easter Bunnies” were both featured in the festivals of Ostara or “Eastre” which were initially held during the pagan feasts of the goddess Ishtar. The pagans used eggs in the celebration because these are an obvious symbol of fertility with new born chicks also being a great representation of new life. During these feasts and festivals the pagan’s worshiping would use brightly coloured eggs, chicks, and “bunnies” to express their appreciation of the abundance “Eastre” had provided for them.
When it comes to the actual character that we know as the “Eastre bunny” or “EASTER BUNNY” and the idea of him bringing us chocolate eggs on Easter, there is a very interesting pagan story behind the legend. The legend claims that the goddess “Eastre”, or Ostara as she is also known, felt very bad for arriving late one spring (the season of spring must have actually been late in its coming the year this legend was born) and in order to help make a mends for this she decided to save the life of a poor bird whose wings had frozen in the snow. Eastre made this bird her pet and some versions of the legend even say it made the bird her lover. Feeling compassion for this bird of hers because he no longer had the ability to fly Eastre decided to turn him into a snow hare named “Lepus”. She also gave him the ability to run very fast so he could avoid hunters and she also gave him one more special gift. In remembrance of his life as a bird Eastre gave Lepus the ability to lay “eggs”. Not only could Lepus lay eggs but these eggs would also come out in all the different colours of the rainbow. There was only one downfall to this great ability Lepus had, he could only lay these eggs on one day each year, on the day that the festivial of Eastre was celebrated. From this simple and earliest known pagan legend we get the first stories of the birth of the idea of the “EASTER BUNNY” and also Easter Eggs and where they get their multiple bright colours from.
History of the EASTER BUNNY: Traditions around the World
In terms of more recent traditions the character that we in the West would call the “Easter Bunny”, in our minds, is often a big, almost lifelike, character. A giant loveable and friendly white bunny who is as real as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. And who also delivers chocolate eggs to the homes of kids by hiding them in their houses or their yards but providing them with baskets to go and hunt the eggs with during the spring celebration of Easter. When you read it like that it sounds kind of silly don’t you think? I mean at least Santa Claus is based on a human being. Anyways when it comes to the Easter Bunny and other Easter traditions it is important to realize that the customs surrounding this season and Holiday are different around the world.
Believe it or not the first actually documented use of the “Bunny” as a symbol of “Easter” occurs in the late 1500’s in Germany of all places. Although if you read the previous article you would know that pagan traditions and legends point the hare or rabbit as often being strongly associated with the time of “Eastre” or “Easter”. Following along with their firsts in terms of the “Easter Bunny” it was the Germans in the 1800’s who were the first ones to also create edible “Easter Bunnies”. However, it was actually the Pennsylvania Dutch who brought the “Easter Bunny” from Europe to the United States in the 1700s. Every spring their children would be spinning with excitement in their wait for the arrival of “Oschter Haws” (their Easter Bunny character) and the gifts that accompanied him; this was a joy for these Dutch children that could only be rivaled by the winter visit of “Sinterklaas” (their name for Saint Nick – the mispronunciation of this name is where Santa Claus comes from).
The character of the rabbit or bunny is revered around the world in different cultures. Many Asian cultures hail the rabbit as a sacred messenger to the divine. Even for Buddhists and Egyptians the rabbit has special meaning. And of course Western Europe has their strong beliefs in the rabbit as a symbol of fertility and new life. It is thought that the knowledge of the Eastern traditions to do with the rabbit must have spread to Europe as communication between these two groups increased. Also the fact that the two groups beliefs about the rabbit blended so well together must have helped keep these traditions alive. Even Native American peoples and the ancient Mayans had their beliefs about the mysticism of rabbits a.k.a. bunnies.
Over time these many different traditions/legends about rabbits/bunnies has moulded this animal from an symbolic ancient bringer of life, etc. into the “Easter Bunny” a symbol of the Holiday which celebrates resurrection. In truth, part of the message remains the same as the Rabbit is still symbolic of a season and time when all things are possible and everything can again be new.
When it comes to the modern day tradition of the Easter Bunny, in North America, we follow the idea that on Easter Sunday children wake up to discover either that the “Easter Bunny” has left them a basket full of candy or that he has hidden eggs (maybe decorated ones or simply chocolate ones) for them to find. There are only a few other countries who follow this same tradition. For example, in Austria, the “Easter Bunny” who is known to them as “Osterhase” hides decorated eggs, for children to find the next day, on the night before Easter Sunday. In New Zealand the stores all carry Hot Cross Buns (with the crosses being symbolic of Christ’s cross) and chocolate eggs that the Easter Bunny fills his basket with and delivers to all the children during his delivery rounds on Easter Sunday morning; usually hiding these treats just like the American “Easter Bunny” so that children have to search for them. In New Zealand’s neighbouring country of Australia, they also believe in the “Easter Bunny”. However, rabbits are considered pests and so there has been a long running campaign to replace the “Easter Bunny” with the Easter Bilby (a native marsupial – there are “Easter Bilbies” made of chocolate and are sold to fund raise for this endangered marsupial) but the “Easter Bunny is still more popular.
Not all countries celebrate the Easter Bunny or have even heard of him. Other countries have their own strange Easter traditions including Sweden, where in its western provinces there are competitions to see who can create the biggest bonfire and fireworks are shot off. In Norway, Easter time brings out the more modern tradition of “Easter-crime” shows which are aired including televising detective novels and crime stories. No one knows where this tradition came from. On the other hand, just as in the West almost all countries that celebrate this Holiday do have some form of “Easter eggs”.
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this little look into the history and traditions of the “Easter Bunny”. Perhaps it has sparked your interest and maybe you will include in your life some of these other well-known traditions from other cultures or maybe it will inspire you to twist the “Easter Bunny” idea into some form of new tradition that your family can carry on with from generation to generation and who knows maybe 200 years from know somebody just like myself might be writing about it.