What’s the Difference Between an Egg-Filled Easter and a Religious One?
The way in which Easter is celebrated can be of conflict for some. It is, for many, the center of the Christian faith; a celebration of Jesus’ highest sacrifice for humankind, His death and resurrection. For others, it is an annual celebration with festivities that include its sole focus on the Easter Bunny and his decorated, chocolate eggs.
But, have you ever wondered how far the two traditions really are?
This year, I wondered about the origin of the Easter bunny and his famed eggs, and whether or not it was blasphemous to the Christian faith to fully incorporate him and his chocolate goodies into the children’s festivities.
Surprisingly, what I always thought was solely a practice with pagan origins, turns out to also have roots in Christian religious history.
The Easter Bunny
Apparently, the Easter Bunny, also known as the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare originated from German Lutherans as a popular motif in medieval church art. What Santa Claus is to Christmas is what the Easter Hare is to Easter; a folklore judge who decides whether or not children have been “good” or “disobedient” at the beginning of Eastertide, which is based on the liturgical year of Christianity that focuses on Jesus’ resurrection.
According to ancient times, it was believed that the hare was a hermaphrodite with the idea that it could also procreate without the loss of virginity, which led its association with the Virgin Mary. Hares have also been found in paintings depicting the Virgin Mary and the Christ child, particularly in Northern Europe.
And while rabbits and hares are fertile breeders, it isn’t surprising that they have become symbols of fertility as they make their appearance in our association with spring.
Orthodox Christian churches have also practiced abstaining from eating eggs during the Lent season and to prevent them from being wasted, they were boiled and eaten when the fast was to be broken. It is assumed the eggs were decorated as part of the celebration.
The Eastern Orthodox Church still practices dying Easter eggs red, the colour of blood, in recognition of the blood sacrificed by Jesus during the crucifixion (and of the renewal of life in spring), as the photo at the top of this post depicts.
The idea of egg-giving to children was brought to the U.S. in the 18th century by Protestant German immigrants who told their children stories of the Osterhase, the Easter Hare, who only gave gifts of coloured eggs to good children in the nests they created in their caps or bonnets before Easter.
Authors: Charles Isaac Elton, Charles J. Billson, Christina Hole, Sarah Ben Breathnach, and Jean-Andrew Dickmann have associated the rabbit/hare as a sacred animal associated with Eostre, a saxon goddess of spring and dawn.
According to legend in Breathnach’s origin story, Mrs. Sharps’ Traditions (1990), Eostre’s favourite animal was a large bird that she transformed into a hare in a fit of anger.
In Dickmann’s version of the story, Eostre transforms the bird into a hare as an act of mercy, rather than anger.
My Personal Celebration
For those of you who know me personally, or have followed my blog postings, you’ll know that I’m an active gym member and enthusiastic health and fitness advocate who spends a lot of time at the gym. After an intense workout at the gym, it’s my usual practice to jump into the shower to wash and then later change into fresh clothes.
One day, particularly close to Easter, I had jumped into the shower to wash and rinse myself of the sweat I had accumulated after a tough workout. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I had two, large gashes across my calves from the rubber boots I wore that day, which cut me while walking because I had worn sports socks that were far too short, rather than the high, insulated knee socks I usually wear when I wear my rain boots.
As soon as the water in the shower hit me and ran down my legs, I felt excruciating pain! And I mean, excruciating! Water that gushes into two, open wounds may sound benign, but it unexpectedly made me gnash my teeth in pain and wish I never jumped into the shower, or wear my wretched rain boots with sport socks. I wanted the pain to stop.
It was then that I thought of Jesus’ suffering during the crucifixion. An odd time to think of it, I know, but my own pain helped me empathize with the reality of Jesus’ death and once again be reminded of my delicate mortality.
Jesus didn’t have two gashes on his calves—His entire body was wounded from flogging, His head was crowned with thorns, and His hands and feet were nailed to a cross—and if that wasn’t enough, His chest was also pierced with a lance! And there I was, complaining about two gashes on my calves, which I easily regretted, angry to have had to tolerate pain.
When Jesus cried out that He was thirsty, did anyone offer him water to drink? No. Instead, a Roman solider soaked a sponge in vinegar and lifted it to His lips, a sour drink for anyone to endure and a mocking insult to the Messiah! (John 19, NIV.)
The water on my two, open wounds were excruciating enough. I can only imagine what it would have been like to have had vinegar poured into my wounds. It was then that I had thought about Jesus and the kind of suffering He went through on my behalf…its severity and the significance of His sacrifice, which He obediently accepted.
Many of us forget the humanity in Jesus—that He was also a Man. And that He held within Himself the power to change the course of history and avoid, prevent, or save Himself from the crucifixion, if He really wanted to—which is what makes His sacrifice and the Easter story so significant. He chose obedience to the Father. He willingly submitted Himself to the Father’s will even if it meant that He would suffer excruciatingly for it—and He did it for me and for all of humankind.
This is why the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith. It is its foundation and the root of the Christian’s gratefulness and motivation to worship and love Christ in our humble (or sometimes not-so-humble) attempt to live according to His Word.
This truth was spoken to me again in the midst of my own pain.
The advantage of having two young children of my own, means that I have a legitimate “excuse” to participate in more “juvenile” festivities during the holidays, including Easter.
While they know and understand the Easter story and my husband and I reiterate its significance to them, it also gives me pleasure to provide them with a means to participate in an Easter egg hunt and to encourage their creativity and expression through arts and crafts.
This year, I even went so far as to wear my pink bunny onesie to facilitate the festivities. Easter is, after all, a true celebration—one that celebrates new life and the renewal of life—which I believe should be welcomed and celebrated with joy.
While the children busied themselves in the basement, I dutifully (and strategically) hid Easter boxes and chocolate Easter eggs around the house. All the while, I could hear my daughter desperately calling from the basement, “Mommy!?! Are you DONE hiding the Easter eggs?”
There was a lot of pressure on the “Easter Bunny” this year. And to think the Easter Bunny decided to provide four bags of chocolate Easter eggs, one bag of chocolate bunnies, one large solid chocoloate bunny, and a box of party-flavoured Peeps!
Nevertheless, the hunt was a success! The children searched the house with a concentrated joy, scanning each room and tiny possibility for the shiny foil of brightly coloured eggs.
While both young and adorable in matching bunny ears, these two children were adamant in snatching as many eggs as they could find—against one another. It was a heated race between two serious competitors. This, after all, was chocolate.
At the end of their play, they sorted their goodies, peeking into the small boxes with glee, sometimes disappointment. Aero candies were traded for Kit Kats. Coffee Crisps were handed over for Smarties. And eggs? Well, all eggs were accounted for (I think). And the Easter Bunny could rest easy.
Once the candies were tallied and respectfully set aside (since the Easter Bunny doesn’t recommend stomachaches or cavities), the children and I sat at our dining table and thoughtfully considered the variety of art supplies set out for our use. The goal? Create something—anything—associated with Easter.
My son’s fascination with Five Nights at Freddy’s video game inspired his work on an Easter poster depicting a kinder version, his original version of the character, Bonnie.
And “big kids” certainly get to play during Easter, too. I’ve always been a fan of arts and crafts, but more importantly, a fan of spending time with my children, participating in all their various forms of play.
I used pencil crayons, foam stickers, ink stamps, washi tape, gel pens, and pom-poms for my Easter craft. I especially like the fuzzy, blue bunny!
My daughter’s final piece endorsed a creative and colourful use of markers, ink stamps, foam stickers, acrylic paint, and Play-Doh. It’s a “Mommy bunny with a baby bunny, opening their arms to give hugs and Easter eggs. The green Play-Doh is the grass and the pink pom-poms [are]the nest. See? Do you like it, Mommy?”
Well, yes, I do. Actually, I love it and think it’s better than my piece!
Whatever your beliefs or cultural, religious practices during the Easter season, I hope you had a blessed one filled with a lot of gratefulness, love—and chocolate.
Happy (belated) Easter!
Do you celebrate Easter? If so, how did you celebrate this year?
Do you lean more towards a religious, reverent celebration? Or one that includes the Easter bunny and chocolates?
Were you aware of the origin of the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs?
What other Easter stories surrounding the origin of the Easter Bunny have you heard or know about?