Growing up Christian, one of the biggest disconnects you get with a holiday is Easter.
For Christians, Easter is the commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and a celebration of his rising from the tomb. Easter is about Christ’s atonement for sins, and the conquest of death on our behalf.
So why do we have the Easter traditions of bunnies and eggs?
I never got that as a child, and my son seems rather confused about it as well.
The Easter Bunny
As one might expect, one can trace the origins of the Easter bunny to ancient customs and beliefs. Rabbits and hares are considered to be symbols of fertility (for somewhat obvious reasons). And, due the fact that these animals tend to have large litters in the spring, they became associated with the spring equinox. With spring in the air, and rebirth all around, bunnies seem natural. After all, spring is the abolition of the death of winter.
Christians attach their own significance to hares — at least they did in medieval times. It used to be thought that hares were hermaphrodites. Early Christians believed that hares could reproduce as virgins. Hence, an association with Mary sprang up. Combine ancient ideas of fertility, with Christian beliefs of virgin birth, and you have a symbol for Easter, and association with the rising Christ and the abolition of death makes some sense.
Again, the eggs represent a fertility motif, dating back from ancient times. There is some speculation that decoration eggs came about due to the fact that egg shells changed color when boiled with certain types of spring flowers. However, there are some traditions that try to bring the idea of coloring eggs in line with Christian beliefs and customs. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, red is a popular dye color for Easter eggs, representing the blood of Christ. The egg itself, though, can also be a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. Some point out that an empty plastic egg can be used to teach children about the empty tomb.
But why does the Easter Bunny bring these eggs? The United States saw the legend of a bunny that lays eggs in the 18th Century, when German immigrants brought their story of an “Easter Hare.” The first documented legend of this type was seen in the 1500s, and there were stories published about a hare laying eggs in the garden appearing in the late 1600s. These stories were brought to Pennsylvania Dutch Country by German immigrants, and took hold in the United States as a bunny bringing eggs to children, who were encouraged to leave out baskets, creating a “nest” for the Easter Bunny.
While bunnies and eggs don’t seem to have a lot of bearing on Easter (a name that sounds suspiciously like the German fertility goddess Ostara), they have long been a part of the celebrations. And, if you correlate all things spring with the end of the death of winter, there is still a good correlation between Easter traditions and the fact that Christ overcame death and sin.
What do you think? Does it make sense to celebrate Easter with bunnies and eggs?