Do we thank Germans, pagans, or Christians for the Easter Bunny and those chocolate eggs?
Saturday night before Easter Sunday, kids--and let's face it, adults, too--fall asleep to dreams of a hoppy messenger delivering candy eggs to baskets placed by the fireplace with care. But how did a cotton-tailed, non-egg laying hare come to be a symbol of this holiday?
Legends date the tale of the Easter Bunny back to its origins as a European pagan tradition that celebrated the goddess of spring, Eostre (also written Eastre and conveniently pronounced like the Easter holiday). Worshippers held a festival in honor of the goddess around the spring equinox, which meant the party date shifted slightly each year, similar to the Easter of today.
Eostre's ancient symbol was chosen as a rabbit presumably because the animal usually gives birth in the springtime when the weather is warm. With their incredibly high reproductive rates, rabbits also signify fertility.
A single mother cat is projected to produce up to 40,000 progeny in seven years, but rabbits blow that out of the litter box. In comparison, one female rabbit can produce nearly 185 billion offspring in the same amount of time. See why spaying and neutering is so important?
It would make sense, then, that this incredible rate of fertility brought about Easter eggs, since eggs themselves can signify new life--much like the spring season or the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, the female hormone estrogen is derived from Eostre's name. Is it really that much of a jump to make these Easter eggs chocolate candy eggs?
Some find that Easter eggs commemorate the 13th-century Christian tradition of omitting eggs from the diet during Lent, feasting on them in the Easter morning. Russians in the 19th century reportedly gifted bedazzled eggs to each other on Easter.
Others believe it was the immigration of Germans to America in the 1700s that brought the egg-laying rabbit tradition overseas. Historically, German immigrant children prepared nests the night before the holiday for the bunny to place its colorful eggs, as long as the youth were good that year. Much like American well-behaved children leave a plate of cookies out for Santa Claus and carrots for his reindeer, 18th-century German kids keep a plate of carrots out for the Easter Bunny--in case he needs to refuel after all that bouncing.
Not all countries have the Easter Bunny. Switzerland has a cuckoo bird, Australia has the rabbit-like bilby, and parts of Germany celebrate with a fox. But in the United States, we have a floppy-eared hippity-hop bunny rabbit that brings painted eggs in Easter baskets. From eggs hatch yellow chicks... or ducks... or geese, and so evolved the practice of giving feathered babies in the Easter season.
The chocolate and Easter egg hunts are just an added bonus.
Staff note: A lot of people wonder how Easter and Passover are related. The Bible's New Testament explains the overlap if you prefer that resource.
The Wall Street Journal tells us,
"In Romance languages, the connection between the Jewish and Christian holidays is explicit. The Hebrew word for Passover is Pesach. In French, Easter is Paques.
In the New Testament, Passover and Easter are tied together. Jesus enters Jerusalem and gathers his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal, memorialized by Christians as the Last Supper. Soon, he is arrested, tried and executed on the cross, dying just before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath."
Passover candy makes a beloved holiday even sweeter for many Jews, but chocolate Easter bunnies are typically not given at the end of the Passover meal!
So the origin of Easter has many ties to the Jewish Passover!
With that in mind, what about pagan roots or pagan celebrations when it comes to the origin of Easter? We learned above that the Easter bunny has pagan roots!
"Despite its significance as a Christian holy day, many of the traditions and symbols that play a key role in Easter observances actually have roots in pagan celebrations--particularly the pagan goddess Eostre (or Ostara), the ancient Germanic goddess of spring--and in the Jewish holiday of Passover."
Non-religious traditions, of course, include egg-rolling and egg hunts! One of our traditions includes egg hunts with the hounds in the backyard. We fill plastic eggs with dog treats and set up a mock nosework game! Typically it's a Good Friday activity and we have some friends over with their dogs!
Easter, also called Paschal, is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or just after the spring equinox. Based on our research above, Christ's resurrection should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover meal but this is not always the case.
Plan those egg hunts accordingly as holy week can change! Christian Churches can always verify the dates if you're unsure.
Do you have any Easter bunny themed traditions you do every year with your family? What do you think of the origins of the Easter celebration? Tell us in the comments below.
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