Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 29, 2013

Investigating a link between the Easter Bunny and the Holy Week


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — “What do a bunny and eggs have to do with Easter?” my daughter asked many, many years ago.

I’ve never been one to fall into the commercial trappings of Easter. I remember one year giving my daughters snorkeling gear in their basket rather than stuffing it with chocolate eggs and marshmallow bunnies.

But any child standing in line at a superstore during the season may ponder the question. My immediate answer was some quick dismissive reference to advertising and marketing opportunities to sell chocolate candy and egg-coloring kits. But I became curious, as well, so I did some research to better address this inquiry.

Little did I know that the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs (“Mom, bunnies don’t lay eggs … so that doesn’t make sense!”) actually provide some genuine connection to the general theme of this religious and secular holiday: new life and renewal.

For me this holiday holds more importance spiritually than any other — my religious beliefs hinge on this miraculous story.

And, although I try to be inclusive in regards to faith and religion, it is dishonest to ignore the fact that there is a pretty wide line drawn in the sand where Easter is concerned.

Still, we’re just talking bunnies and eggs here … so let me back up.

The Easter Bunny, or Oschter Haws, apparently showed up in Germany in the 1500s and the Pennsylvania Dutch brought him to the United States in the 1700s.

Among children, the anticipation surrounding his visit (and yes, the Bunny is traditionally thought to be a “he”) came second only to the jolly, red-suited man.

Many Asian and Eurasian cultures revere the rabbit (or hare) as a sacred messenger of the Divine, according to one website I checked. Native Americans saw him as a trickster/transformer, either playing the fool or bringing benefit to humankind (i.e. according to one Native American legend, the rabbit introduced humans to fire.)

Over time, the bunny became associated with bringing new life and renewal.

Not surprisingly, a 19th century ad campaign by European candy makers brought together the bunny and the egg.

The egg has long been a symbol of fertility or new life, and a staple of Easter celebrations. So, ancient traditions and marketing savvy combined to create the legend of the Easter Bunny bringing a basket of eggs.

In the U.S., children search for brightly colored eggs hidden under bushes in the backyard, park or, possibly, the White House Rose Garden.

In northern counties of England, children act out the Pace Egg Play, begging for eggs and other presents. The term Pace is a derivative of the ancient Hebrew verb posach (to pass over), which has evolved into the better-known word and Jewish holiday Passover. An egg is part of the Seder, the celebration of Passover. According to the Christian faith, it was the Passover meal that became known as the Last Supper.

It is worth noting that the lamb, although not a featured player in the original question that began my investigation, plays a major starring role in both the Christian and Jewish faiths. For Christians it represents Christ as the good shepherd and the sacrificial Lamb of God.

In Judaism, the blood of the Paschal Lamb, or Passover Lamb, served to save the Israelites when the Angel of Death passed over them on its way to Egypt. 

So even though I initially thought that bunnies and eggs have no real bearing on Easter — and I sensed that it is a holiday that causes some separation among the spiritually minded — I find myself noting that new life and renewal are things we can all celebrate.

Still, I have to admit I’m a little disappointed that I can’t in good conscience tell my family that baskets full of chocolate bunnies and eggs have absolutely nothing to do with Easter.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.