Easter Bunny

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A 1907 postcard featuring the Easter Bunny.

The Easter Bunny (also called the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare) is a fantasy character depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the Easter Hare originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behaviour at the start of the season of Eastertide.[1] The Easter Bunny is sometimes depicted with clothes. In legend, the creature carries colored eggs in his basket, candy and sometimes also toys to the homes of children, and as such shows similarities to Santa Claus or the Christkind, as they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holiday. The custom was first mentioned in Georg Franck von Franckenau's De ovis paschalibus[2] (About Easter Eggs) in 1682[3] referring to a German tradition of an Easter Hare bringing Easter Eggs for the children. Some Christians today believe that the rabbit symbolizes new life particularly in relation to the resurrection of Jesus.

Symbols[edit]

Dreihasenfenster (Window of Three Hares) in Paderborn Cathedral in Paderborn, Germany.
Marshmallow bunnies and candy eggs in an Easter basket

Rabbits and hares[edit]

The hare was a popular motif in medieval church art. In ancient times it was widely believed (as by Pliny, Plutarch, Philostratus, and Aelian) that the hare was a hermaphrodite.[4][5][6] The idea that a hare could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary, with hares sometimes occurring in illuminated manuscripts and Northern European paintings of the Virgin and Christ Child. It may also have been associated with the Holy Trinity, as in the three hares motif,[4][7] representing the "One in Three and Three in One" of which the triangle or three interlocking shapes such as rings are common symbols. In England, this motif usually appears in a prominent place in the church, such as the central rib of the chancel roof or on a central rib of the nave. This suggests that the symbol held significance to the church, and casts doubt on the theory that they may have been masons' or carpenters' signature marks.[8] Additionally, according to legend, "a young rabbit who, for three days, waited anxiously for his friend, Jesus, to return to the Garden of Gethsemane, little knowing what had become of Him. Early on Easter morning, Jesus returned to His favorite garden and was welcomed by His animal friend. That evening, when Jesus' disciples came into the garden to pray, they discovered a path of beautiful larkspurs, each blossom bearing the image of a rabbit in its center as a remembrance of the patience and hope of this faithful little creature."[9]

Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the March Equinox.[citation needed]

Rabbits and hares are both prolific breeders. Female hares can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first.[10] This phenomenon is known as superfetation. Lagomorphs mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year (hence the saying, "to breed like bunnies"). It is therefore not surprising that rabbits and hares should become fertility symbols, or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore.

Eggs[edit]

A bunny and eggs

The reason eggs are associated in celebrating Easter is not clearly known, but some suggest it comes from the roasted egg (the Beitzah) in the Passover Seder, which represented the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) and was probably introduced to the Passover after the Temple was destroyed in 70AD. Eggs were also the first dish served at Jewish funerals in the time of Christ’s ministry on earth. Since most of the early Christians were Jewish, it's likely they carried forward the tradition and associated the egg with Jesus' death and resurrection. It's thought that breaking the egg's shell symbolized the end of ritual sacrifice for atonement. [11]

The second conjecture comes from the Orthodox churches' custom of abstaining from eggs during the fast of Lent. The only way to keep them from being wasted was to boil or roast them, and begin eating them to break the fast. As a special dish, they would probably have been decorated as part of the celebrations. Later, German Protestants retained the custom of eating colored eggs for Easter, even though they did not continue the tradition of fasting. [12]

A third possibility is that the blooming of many flowers in spring coincides with the use of the fertility symbol of eggs. Eggs boiled with some flowers change their color, bringing the spring into the homes, and some over time added the custom of decorating the eggs. Many Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day typically dye their Easter eggs red,[13] the color of blood, in recognition of the blood of the sacrificed Christ (and, of the renewal of life in springtime). Some also use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the long dead time of winter. The Ukrainian art of decorating eggs for Easter, known as pysanky, dates to ancient, pre-Christian times. Similar variants of this form of artwork is seen amongst other eastern European cultures.

The idea of an egg-laying bunny came to the U.S. in the 18th century. Protestant German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the "Osterhase" (sometimes spelled "Oschter Haws"[14]).[15] "Hase" means "hare", not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the "Easter Bunny" indeed is a hare, not a rabbit. According to the legend, only good children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their caps and bonnets before Easter.[16] There are also derivatives of the Easter Bunny in other cultures. German immigrants brought the belief of the Easter Bunny to Sweden in the late 19th century but the tradition was never established. Instead, due to a misunderstanding of the Swedish word for the Easter Bunny, "Påskharen", which pronunciation sounds very similar to "Påskkarlen", meaning the Easter Man or the Easter Wizard, the Swedish tradition of the Easter Wizard bringing eggs for Easter was rooted in the early 20th century. The Easter Wizard was seen as a more suitable symbol for the pagan Easter traditions of Sweden, where still today children dress up as Witches at Easter.

See also[edit]

A chocolate Easter Bunny
Chocolate Easter Bunny moulds from Alsace Musée du pain d'épices

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cross, Gary (2004). Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children's Culture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195348133. 
  2. ^ Franck von Franckenau, Georg (1682). Disputatione ordinaria disquirens de ovis paschalibus / von Oster-Eyern. Satyrae Medicae. XVIII. Heidelberg. p. 6. Retrieved 18 July 2013. 
  3. ^ Easter Bunny - What Does He Have To Do With Easter?, occultcenter.com
  4. ^ a b Chris Chapman Three Hares Project, What does the Symbol Mean?
  5. ^ Marta Powell Harley. "Rosalind, the hare, and the hyena in Shakespeare's As You Like It". Shakespeare Quarterly. 
  6. ^ "Sir Thomas Browne (1646; 6th ed., 1672) Pseudodoxia Epidemica III:xvii (pp. 162-166)". 
  7. ^ "Three Hares as representation of the Trinity". Threehares.blogspot.com. 2006-02-25. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  8. ^ Chapman, Chris (2004). "The Three Hares Project". Retrieved 2008-11-11. 
  9. ^ Tucker, Suzetta (1998). "ChristStory Bestiary". Official House Rabbit Society Home Page. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  10. ^ Lumpkin, Susan; John Seidensticker (2011). Rabbits: The Animal Answer Guide. JHU Press. ISBN 0-8018-9789-0. p. 122.
  11. ^ Holy Days from Pagan Lies-Easter 2 by Pastor Joseph Abrahamson. Published April 14th, 2014. Accessed April 17, 2014
  12. ^ Shrove Tuesday Pancakes! by Bridget Haggerty - Irish Culture & Customs, World Cultures European, paragraph 5 line 2 refers to the catholic custom of abstaining from eggs during Lent. Accessed 3/1/08
  13. ^ How To Dye Red Eggs with Onion Skins for Greek Easter by Nancy Gaifyllia from Your Guide to Greek Food on About.Com Accessed April 9, 2008
  14. ^ "Gruß vom Osterhasen: Oschter Haws Song : GERMAN WORLD MAGAZINE". Germanworldonline.com. 2011-04-23. Retrieved 2013-03-31. 
  15. ^ "Easter on the Net - The Easter Bunny". Holidays.net. Retrieved 2013-03-31. 
  16. ^ Easter Symbols from Lutheran Hour Ministries. Accessed 2/28/08]

External links[edit]