A Brief History of Easterposted on 3/20/14
As a child, I never questioned the validity of this thing called the Easter Bunny. Perhaps the promise of a basket full of pastel grass, chocolate, and other deliciously sweet tooth-rotting treats was enough to suspend disbelief. From an adult perspective, the story of the Easter Bunny might be one of the most ridiculous holiday-related myths ever.
In my family, the story always went as follows: on Easter Sunday, a giant human-like bunny—most likely naked since there was never any mention of clothing—caries a pastel-colored basket full of treats for the best-behaved children. I wasn’t a bad kid per se, but I got up to a healthy amount of trouble nonetheless. Let me tell you, the threat of a bunny-free Easter never kept me out of trouble quite like a stocking full of coal on Christmas morning.
Back to Easter. You might be wondering how a bunny with a basket of eggs relates to Easter. Well, it doesn’t. Let’s brush up on our biblical history. Easter Sunday is the most celebrated and popular Christian holiday. Crazy, right? I always thought Christmas was the most popular holiday but perhaps Christians are a lot less materialistic than I am. Long story short, the New Testament claims that Jesus rose from the dead three days after the Romans crucified him. Christians believe that by paying the price for mankind’s sin with his execution, Jesus brought eternal life to his believers. But the bible never makes mention of rabbits or eggs and everyone knows rabbits are not oviparous (they don’t lay eggs).
So where do these fables come from?
Like every good myth, the origins of many Easter traditions are uncertain. As we know it today, Easter is a good mix of pagan and Christian beliefs. The term “Easter” itself has no ties to Christianity. In pre-Christian times, one goddess in Germanic pagan religions was known as Eastre. Eastre’s symbol was the rabbit, as she was a spring goddess. Rabbits are typically considered a symbol of fertility—an especially busy rabbit could have one litter of approximately ten kits each month. Could you imagine having 120 babies in one year? Rabbits should be immediately banned from every American high school. Despite the many variations on the spelling of her name, the goddess Eastre is likely the term “Easter” originates.
Eggs have also been a symbol of fertility throughout history. Sometime around the 13th century, Christians began using eggs as an Easter tradition. For Christians, the yolk inside the shell represented Christ emerging from his tomb three days after his execution. And it typically gruesome Christian fashion, eggs were painted red to represent the blood Jesus shed while on the cross.
So where does the bunny fit into all of this? This legend begins in the 16th century, when Germans told their kids that good behavior would earn them a visit from the Easter bunny. By the late 1600s, the first story of an Easter rabbit laying eggs and hiding them had been published. The rest is history.