Spring has arrived with all of its inherent storms and variable weather conditions. The ability to experience 70-degree weather one day followed by several inches of snow the next is part of the seasonal change; the beginning of the growing season and the ending of the dormant one. Winter is basically over and summer has not yet begun yet the two continue the battle for their hold on the world. Spring is the time of renewal, the season of change, and the beginning of beginnings. It is the end of the fasting season, a time when, historically, the food stores were dwindling and the new food was not yet grown and ready. It is the time of the Easter holiday, a celebration for Christians, marking a time of rebirth and the history of the bunny which has had people coloring, hiding and gathering eggs for as long as can be remembered.
How, though, did the tradition of the bunny rabbit and eggs come about? Rabbits do not lay eggs; instead giving birth to live young. The modern method of celebration with both eggs and bunny during the Easter holiday has a history not only through Christianity but through paganism as well. Christians celebrate Easter in honor and remembrance of the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead, which was essentially a rebirth and renewal of life. Long ago in pre-Christian Germany, people worshipped the goddess Eostra during this same time of year. Eostra is the goddess of renewal and fertility. One of her symbols is the hare due to the creature’s high rate of reproduction. Additionally, both eggs and the full moon are symbols of Eostre as both are indicative of renewal and fertility.
Eostre gave her name to the Christian festival which became known as Easter. Feasts once held in worship of the goddess became part of the celebration of the day in which Christians believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Eggs, rabbits, the beginning of spring, and fertility were still honored even as Catholicism took hold and people began worshipping the life and death of Jesus Christ. As often happens, old traditions merged with the new beliefs, and so the pagan beliefs regarding rabbits and eggs became merged with the resurrection of Jesus. The day of the Easter celebration is symbolic of new beginnings.
Still, the merging of the pagan beliefs with those of the Roman Catholics in Germany does not adequately explain the history of the Easter Bunny. A tale about a bunny first laying eggs and then hiding those eggs in gardens was not published until the late 1600s, but when it was, it became part of the legend. The legend and beliefs were brought into the United States by German immigrants in the 1700s. Many of the immigrants settled in the same area, which was predominately in Pennsylvania. Once the legend of the rabbit laying eggs was established, people began making nests in which the creatures could lay their eggs. The nests soon became baskets, the baskets became decorated, the eggs became colored, and small gifts and candy were added. In the end, a pagan symbol for new life became entwined with the resurrection of Jesus and a story about a bunny became a legend to be believed.
By Dee Mueller
on twitter @TuesdayDG