The Easter Bunny: What's the History Behind This Tradition?
I love traditions.
I especially love traditions involving tangible items that are used year after year. I feel a special connection when I touch an item that my grandmother or great-grandmother also touched or used every year in their own celebrations. And I never feel this more keenly than at Easter time.
When each of my children were born, I bought them a special wood Easter basket that was crafted in the year of their birth. While this was a bit pricey, I have never bought another basket for them again.
I have cherished filling those baskets with their favorite candy before Easter day and setting them out early on Easter morning. As I wake them up to prepare for church and for celebrating the real meaning of Easter, I get to see the joy and surprise on their faces as they paw through their baskets, finding the small trinkets I handpicked for each of them amongst the candy.
But this memory has sparked some questions: why is a bunny associated with Easter, and why, of all things, is that bunny supposed to hand out eggs? We know that bunnies don't lay eggs, so the connection has been a mystery to me through the years. I decided to do a bit of research.
As a Christian, I have always believed in—and made sure my children know—the true meaning of Easter. It is the most pivotal day of our faith.
John 19:41-42 says,
At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, leaving behind an empty tomb, before revealing himself to many people on different occasions. What a great day for those believers at the time, and even more so for those of us today!
So back to the Easter baskets. Why a bunny, and why the eggs? The eggs are easy. They symbolize the resurrection and new life of Jesus. Eggs remind us of the birth and new chance of life that comes each year during springtime.. Also, traditionally, eggs were not to be eaten in the 40 days leading up to Easter each year, a period known as Lent. This made the egg even more desirable as Easter drew closer.
Now for the bunny. Where did he come from? In old German folklore, there was a goddess named Eostre. She was the spring goddess of fertility of humans and crops. Both hares and eggs were used as symbols for this mythological figure, because they both represented fertility. There were springtime feasts held in Eostre’s honor, but by the 9th century, this tradition had died out and was replaced by Easter, the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.
When the bunny and egg became connected with the Christian Easter celebration, the bunny (or “Easter Hare”) originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behavior. German tradition held that the bunny would carry colored eggs, candy, and sometimes toys in its basket to give to good children.
From pagan beginnings, the bunny and the eggs are now associated with the Christian holiday of Easter. These symbols contain are allusions to the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. While Christmas deals with the birth of our Savior, Easter is the time of the year that shows how Christianity is vastly different from every religion on the planet. There is no other religious person who has been crucified, died, buried, and rose again on the third day, showing himself to hundreds!
Enjoy the time of year. Let the full meaning of this important holiday sink into your heart and the hearts of your children, and enjoy the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus. Celebrate with baskets of fun things or other Easter traditions, new and old. Demonstrate to your children that we have a Good Father who delights in us as His children. For me, that involves a basket filled with some candies and a small toy or two.
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