The History Of The Easter Bunny

“Go to sleep now so the Easter Bunny can come.” This is said to Christian children around the world on the night before Easter. Children look forward to Easter and the treats that come with it, especially chocolate eggs and other treats that will be in Easter baskets, delivered by the Easter Bunny. Perhaps the Easter Bunny scatters eggs throughout the house or yard to be found in an Easter egg hunt. Maybe brightly decorated eggs are used in an Easter egg roll, like the one held each year on the White House lawn. Occasionally a lucky child will be given a live Easter Bunny as a special Easter gift.

Each family may have a unique tradition, but the basic concept is the same; if you have been good, the Easter Bunny will bring a special treat to celebrate Easter, which for Christians celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. How did the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs come to represent the resurrection? The answer is found much farther back than Jesus.

To discover the history of the Easter Bunny, you must travel back in time to pagan worship. Babylonians, 2000 years before Christ, worshiped a god named Tammuz. Tammuz, the Babylonian’s believed, was resurrected from the dead by Ishtar. The festival commemorating this resurrection was celebrated in the spring. Father’s helped children paint designs on eggs. The eggs would be hidden so the children could enjoy an egg hunt. All members of the family got dressed in their best clothes to attend a worship service.

Eastre, the Anglo-Saxon Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility had a similar celebration. Because of the fertile nature of rabbits and hares, and the increased awareness of that fertility in the spring, Eastre was often pictured with a hare. It was said that the hare was her favorite animal.

Eastre’s festival was celebrated on the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. Her festival included a hare or rabbit and colored eggs. Eggs were used, as a sign of new life as it was often believed that the world hatched from an egg. Obviously, eggs also bring new life to many species of animals. The eggs were painted in many bright colors to celebrate the many hues of the sun and spring time.

Other gods and their legends were similar to Eastre’s. Greek legends spoke of Persephone, who returned from the under world to life above. This return represented for the Greeks the resurrection of the spring from the dead of the winter. The Phrygians believed that their god went to sleep on the first day of winter. They danced and played music on the first day of spring to wake him. As far back as these pagan beliefs we see themes of resurrection and new life celebrated in the spring.

The giving of multi-colored eggs as a gift also travels throughout time. As long as 3000 years ago the Chinese painted eggs for spring festivals. It is believed that in 722 BC a Chinese chieftain gave painted eggs as gifts in celebration of spring. In Persia, colored eggs were given as gifts to celebrate the first day of spring. Throughout history we see gift giving similar to the Easter Bunny’s eggs.

Moving forward in history, we find the Christian origin of Easter in the Jewish religion. It begins with Jesus Christ celebrating the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach) with his friends at the Last Supper. After celebrating the Passover Supper, Jesus was arrested, tortured, sentenced, hung on the cross, died and rose from the dead. This resurrection symbolized new life to all and Christians believe it is worthy of great celebration.

Many of the first Christians were Jewish and therefore celebrated Christ’s resurrection as an extension of the Passover. Later the resurrection was celebrated two days after Passover. Passover appears, to those of us who follow the current calendar, as a roaming holiday. For those who follow the Jewish calendar it is always from the 14th to the 21st day of Nissan. Nissan is the first month of the Jewish calendar and falls in the current months of March or April. In the Jewish calendar adjustments are made to ensure that it is always a spring holiday.

In 325, AD, the Council of Nicea determined that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday, the day of the week that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The day of Easter itself was to be determined by the vernal equinox. It was to be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox, a spring celebration.

We see the first historical emergence of the Easter Bunny and Easter Bunny eggs in 16th Century Germany. Children were told that if they were good, the Oschter Haws (Easter Hare) would bring them colored eggs on Easter Eve.

Children made nests to ensure that the Oschter Haws would leave the eggs for them. Boys made the nests from their caps and girls from their bonnets. The nests were hidden throughout the property, in barns, bedrooms, or tall grass. In this event we see the incorporation of the ancient traditions celebrating fertility, new life and spring into an Easter celebration with an Easter Bunny and Easter Bunny eggs.

The German people brought their traditions with them to America. The Germans settled in Pennsylvania in what is now called Pennsylvania Dutch country. The tradition of the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs spread to other nationalities in the area. Gradually the celebration became more elaborate, and specific traditions developed.

In Greece, eggs are painted red to represent the blood of Christ. In Yugoslavian countries, it is tradition to put five colored eggs in a basket on the table to represent the five wounds of Christ. In Armenia, eggs are decorated with pictures of religious symbols. In Ireland, eggs that are laid on Good Friday are marked with a cross and eaten on Easter Sunday. In Poland, eggs are decorated with rug yarn. Collectible Faberge eggs were first designed out of diamonds, gold and silver by a Russian jeweler of the same name. Ukrainian families decorate their eggs using a method called Pysanky. This method involves the use of bees’ wax.

A popular American Easter tradition occurs on Easter Monday (the day following Easter). It is the Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. The tradition began in 1878, when President Rutherford B. Hayes first allowed local children to participate in an egg roll at the White House. Previously public egg rolls were held at the Capitol, but in 1876 those events were banned due to the destruction of the Capitol lawn. The Easter Bunny makes a special appearance at the event and children participate in a special Easter Egg Rolling Race using spoons borrowed from the White House kitchen.

Today Easter is celebrated throughout the world. Many Easter celebrations include the Easter Bunny and eggs. Remembering the beauty of traditions of old and revising them to express Christian beliefs is a common occurrence. Early Christians found that the Good News of Jesus Christ made more sense to pagan populations when explained through existing traditions. The rabbit of fertility and the egg of new life that once celebrated only spring, now celebrate the resurrection and the existence of new life for all.

Post a Comment