Springtime, pretty colors, children coloring eggs and hiding them, and the Easter Bunny. Easter is the holiest day for Christians, the day celebrating Christ’s resurrection on the third day after Good Friday. This time of year is also associated with Passover, the holy Jewish holiday. So why a bunny?
Since ancient times, rabbits have been symbols of Easter, partly due to pagan traditions, partly due to religious symbolism. According to most encyclopedias, a rabbit, in the Christian tradition, symbolizes an innocent, vulnerable creature (much like a lamb), easily taken in by his enemies, and whose only real defense is to run or be saved by his master. Christians say the rabbit may represent man being saved by Christ, or Christ himself, allowing himself to be “taken” as a lamb to the slaughter. The egg, a symbol too, represents the rebirth, as Christ rose on the third day. Even literature gets into the act. The Great Gatsby uses “West Egg” Long Island, New York (not a real town) to represent hope for new life, however fleeting, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s popular novel.
Pagans, on the other hand, have a different explanation of Easter. The pagans worshipped the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility: Eostre. Her symbol was the rabbit, and this symbol has reached across many cultures, standing the test of time. The pagans further celebrated spring by painting eggs in spring-like colors. But the Christian missionaries were not about to destroy this pagan tradition and alienate the “lost souls.” Christian missionaries were said to celebrate this festival as well, skillfully using the comradeship to minister to them, trying to convert them.
A German lady friend of mine who now lives in Vienna said she remembers being taught that in the 1700s the Germans brought the symbol of the rabbit to America. She is aware of stories of how the German people started to make nests for the Easter bunny the night before. Nowhere, however, can we find why tradition has this Easter Bunny bringing the delicious baskets of chocolate, gifts most of us so anxiously looked forward to as children.
The bunny and the egg, albeit symbols, myths, and traditions, are here to stay, much to the delight of the young and old.