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Bringing home the Bunny

Mar 26, 2010 | By Gillian FitzGerald

While appreciating for all things chocolate, you can't but be suspicious of the more commercial aspects of Easter. A look back into the origins of Easter eggs and bunnies.

Chocolate Easter eggsIt's hard to relate the endless racks of candy, marshmellow and foil-covered eggs with anything meaningful, other than the (dis)pleasure of my expanding rear! After all, the jolly fat man in a red and white suit was the 1931 brain-child of ingenius Coke marketers. Which is why I decided to dig deeper into the origin of eggs and the bunnies that bring them. Do they have meaning, or are they just another manipulation of the consumer mind?

A Symbol of Spring

Eggs as it turns out, originally had less to do with Easter than to celebrate the start of Spring. For centuries, across many cultures and religious backgrounds, eggs were used a symbol of new life. The fluffy chick breaking out of its shell was a perfect example of new life emerging.

Over 2,500 years ago, the Zoroastrians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration, which fell on the Spring equinox. The Jewish Passover Seder has long included dipping hard-boiled eggs into salt water, symbolizing the festival sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Bring in the Bunny

Spring hare

The bunny seems to have evolved from the worship of a pagan Spring goddess called Eostre (Anglo) or Ostara (Germanic) by pre-Christian Saxons. Eostre's animal was the spring hare and her festival took place on the Vernal Equinox, around 21 March each year. Since the land was 'rebirthed' during Spring, it's believed that this goddess was associated with both eggs and the hare.
Other theories however, point more practically to the fact that in Springtime hares breed like, well, bunnies- a perfect fertility symbol!

Integration into Christianity

It was only Pope Gregory the Great allowed his missionaries to use old religious sites and absorb them into Christian rituals, that the modern-day Easter as we know it came about. The Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Christ was ideally suited to be merged with the Pagan feast of Eostre, so many of the traditional customs were adopted into the Christian festivities. The English name for Easter is actually derived from the Germanic word Eostre. Integrating pagan beliefs and customs into Christian celebrations was a common way to encourage pagans to join the Christian faith.

Easter basket

The Bounty of the Easter Basket

The concept of the Easter bunny bringing eggs only emerged in the 1600s, in the then Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. But it was only in the early 1800s that first edible bunnies were made - not of our traditional chocolate, but of pastry and sugar.
The Germanic Osterhase (Easter bunny) tradition required children to build brightly colored nests, often out of caps and bonnets in secluded areas of their homes.
If the kids had been good, the Osterhase would pop brightly colored eggs into their nest. And if they had been bad ... well, we all know how that goes.

Sound familiar? Yip, good ol' Mr Claus or Saint Nick apply the same rules.
Just can't help to wonder whether German parents perhaps hit upon a wonderful discipline tactic for their kids all year round!

Tags : Easter, origin, myths, eggs, bunny, hare

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