By RJ Peterson
Easter is an exciting time of year. It is the holiday that ushers in new life and warm sunny weather, which will be a welcome reprieve for many of our readers in the Northern states. Winter’s cold grip is beginning to soften and the world is waking up from hibernation. With all the excitement of spring we tend to take much of the symbolism associated with this time of year at face value—but when we step back and examine the traditions of spring and Easter, things can look a little funky.
So we have everyone’s favorite bunny that goes house-to-house giving chocolate treats and little gifts to children around the world, a business model he borrowed from the North Pole’s most successful CEO, Santa Clause. Much like Christmas, children learn quickly that the quality of the goods in their Easter basket is directly proportionate to their behavior. The concept of being rewarded for good behavior is important for children to learn and the excitement of a candy buffet is incentive enough. As a child, I never stopped to think much about the physical symbols of this time of year—the surges of dopamine induced by the Cadbury company put my mind elsewhere.
As I got older I began to think, “Why is a bunny giving out eggs?” I was no biologist, but I knew that bunnies were mammals and therefore did not lay eggs—so what’s up with this unlikely pair? After some thorough research (ok I read the Wikipedia page) I feel that I am expert enough to comment on the subject.
Easter is actually a holiday that transcends its Judeo-Christian association. Long before Western religion got involved in the celebration, early civilization celebrated spring as a season of new birth and fertility. Crops could be planted and everything that sustained life could be cultivated. For ancient society both the bunny and egg were important symbols of new life, which is closely associated with spring.
The Easter egg itself has long been associated with spring. Over 2,500-years-ago the ancient Zoroastrians would paint eggs to celebrate the New Year, which fell on the spring equinox. The Zoroastrians are often credited with starting the tradition of dying eggs, spawning an art form that brought us everything from fun family traditions to Fabergé eggs. The egg also has strong ties to the Jewish holiday, Passover. During the Jewish Passover Seder hardboiled eggs, or Beitzah as they are know in Hebrew, are dipped in salt water as a symbol of the peace offering at the Temple in Jerusalem.
So how about the bunny? Well, it’s pretty clear that bunnies are signs of fertility, but their association to eggs is a little more abstract. Some believe that the association between the two may have come from children confusing certain words when listening to the story of the Easter bunny. The story of the bunny has deep roots in German folklore and their word for burrow (where a bunny lives) and nest (where a chicken lives) is very similar and children who heard the story mixed up the words and all of a sudden bunnies were laying eggs!
Like a big game of telephone, these symbols have transformed over the past 2,000 years and now have meanings that reflect what is important in our society. We may not need to celebrate spring as the ancients did, but the idea of moral fortitude and togetherness are just as important to us today as it was in past times.