Saturday, April 12, 2014

Do you believe in the Easter bunny?

At our weekly Thursday evening dinner this week, one of our fellow diners asked how the Easter bunny and Easter eggs came to be related to the celebration of Easter.

After a little research, I discovered that they actually have no relation at all. Like both Christmas and St. Valentine’s Day, all three dates are tied to pagan celebrations. Christmas, of course, is closely related to the pagan holiday of Saturnalia, and St. Valentine’s Day is closely related to the pagan festival of love, which is called Lupercalia.

According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the Easter Bunny can be traced back to pre-Christian 13th Century Germany, when people worshipped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held on her honor on the vernal equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit, due to the animal’s high reproduction rate. The Old English version of her name, Eostre, translates into modern English as Easter, and is derived from the old Germanic word austron, which means “dawn”. By no small coincidence, the Greek goddess of dawn is named Eos.

Spring has long symbolized new life and rebirth, and eggs are an ancient symbol of fertility.

The first Easter Bunny legend was documented in the 1500’s. By 1680, the first story about rabbits laying eggs and hiding them in a garden was published. conveniently ignoring the fact that rabbits give birth like humans, and do not lay eggs. The legends of the Easter bunny and the eggs came to America in the 1700’s, when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country in Pennsylvania.

If you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll discover that the pagan celebration of Easter goes back a lot further than 13th century Germany. As a matter of fact, the celebration actually goes back to the time of Noah, who was born somewhere between 2700 and 2800 B.C.. Appropriately enough, the true origins of the festival start with his son Ham. It’s a long and complicated tale, and the full details can be found by reading the details posted at the link below:

when did Easter REALLY start?

The short version of the story, though, is this:

During the later years of Noah’s life, the pagans celebrated a festival called Ishtar (which is pronounced Easter) . Officially, the festival commemorated the resurrection of their god Tammuz, who was the only begotten son of the moon goddess and the sun god.

Tammuz was especially fond of rabbits, which became sacred in the ancient religions. Like his father, he was an avid hunter. One day, while hunting rabbits, he was killed by a wild pig. To commemorate his death, his mother (Queen Ishtar) proclaimed a 40 day time of sorrow each year prior to the anniversary of his death. Every year, on the first Sunday after the vernal equinox, a celebration of his life was held, and was celebrated with rabbits and eggs. Due to the fact that he was killed by a pig, Queen Ishtar proclaimed that a pig must be eaten on that day.

The practice of decorating eggs, surprisingly, goes back in time even further, since ostrich eggs with decorations that are 60,000 years old have been found in Africa.

The Christian celebration of Easter also has a long history, but it doesn’t go back as far as you may think. Early Christians, in fact, continued to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover. It wasn’t until the time of the Nicaea Council (in 325 A.D.) that the Catholic church ruled that Easter Sunday would be celebrated on the first Sunday immediately following the full moon which came after the vernal equinox.

At some point in time (possibly as early as the 15th Century) , the pagan symbols of rabbits and eggs merged with the Christian celebration of Easter, which is why we now have the Easter bunny and Easter eggs.

Due to today’s political correctness, I’ve actually seen newspaper ads for “spring bunnies”. Although they are technically correct, I don’t have a problem with anyone who wants to call them Easter bunnies. After all, I also believe in the Easter bunny, and I’ve got an awful lot of company.

1 comment:

  1. A rabbit often appears outside our window on Easter Sunday morning. When we lived in St.Paul and Stillwater, MN, he or she never failed. Here on the North Shore of Lake Superior, it is a snowshoe hare. I saw it a few days ago (early April), and it wore a coat of white and brown to match our 60 percent snow cover. My belief is nature based in reality, not superstition or tradition.