All the fun things about Easter have pagan roots, and It is not a coincidence if the most widely-practiced customs on Easter Sunday are associated to the rabbit (“Easter bunny”) and the egg.
Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare, while exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures.
As we already know, a hare was a symbol associated with great northern goddess Eostre, (goddess of Spring, otherwise known as Ostara, Austra, or Eastre) representing the beginning of Springtime.
As the bringer of dawn to the world after a long winter, the goddess was often depicted with the hare, an animal that represents the arrival of spring as well as the fertility of the season. In earlier times, a crop’s fertility had significant importance, as did human fertility. A time of rebirth for nature and all its creatures, when bunnies multiply and buds long dormant are coaxed to blossom by longer days and warmer weather. The Easter bunny is often considered a part of Easter because of the notable ability of bunnies to proliferate.
Also the egg has come to represent Spring, fertility and renewal and legends abound about this symbol of life. Around the world, they are brought to church, given as gifts, hidden for the benefit of children and even rolled on the White House lawn.
In Germanic mythology, it is said that Ostara healed a wounded bird she found in the woods by changing it into a hare. Still partially a bird, the hare showed its gratitude to the goddess by laying eggs as gifts.
The Encyclopedia Britannica clearly explains the pagan traditions associated with the egg: “The egg as a symbol of fertility and of renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who had also the custom of colouring and eating eggs during their spring festival.” In fact in ancient Egypt, an egg symbolised the sun, while for the Babylonians, the egg represents the hatching of the Venus Ishtar, who fell from heaven to the Euphrates.
And the tradition of an egg-toting Easter Bunny?
The first reference can be found in a German text dating to 1572 AD: “Do not worry if the Easter Bunny escapes you; should we miss his eggs, we will cook the nest,”.
However it wasn’t until the tradition made its way to the United States via the arrival of German immigrants in Pennsylvania, that the custom took on its current form. By the end of the 19th century, shops were selling rabbit-shaped candies, which later became the chocolate bunnies we have today, and children were being told the story of a rabbit that delivers baskets of eggs, chocolate and other candy on Easter morning.
In many Christian traditions, the custom of giving eggs at Easter celebrates new life.
In religious terms, Christians remember that Jesus, after dying on the cross, rose from the dead, showing that life could win over death. For them, the egg is a symbol of the tomb in which the body of Jesus was placed, while cracking the egg represents Jesus’ resurrection.
In the Orthodox tradition, eggs are painted red to symbolize the blood Jesus shed on the cross.
Regardless of the very ancient origins of the symbol of the egg, most people agree that nothing symbolizes renewal more perfectly than the egg: round, endless, and full of the promise of life.
While many of the pagan customs associated with the celebration of Spring were at one stage practised alongside Christian Easter traditions, they eventually came to be absorbed within Christianity, as symbols of the resurrection of Jesus.
The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox.
Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead.
Hot cross buns and other breads marked with an X to symbolize the cross are a tradition on many Easter tables. Different sweet breads are also used all over the world: Choreg (Armenia), Paska (Ukraine), Babka (Poland), Tsoureki (Greece) are some examples.
Whether it is observed as a religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or a time for families in the northern hemisphere to enjoy the coming of Spring and celebrate with egg decorating and Easter bunnies, the celebration of Easter still retains the same spirit of rebirth and renewal, as it has for thousands of years.
Look also at these 10 bizarre Easter traditions around Europe!
HAPPY EASTER TO EVERYBODY!
Images from web – Google Research