Archive for Sunday, April 8, 2007

Combing hares

Search for origins of Easter bunny, eggs proves elusive

April 8, 2007


It could have been the Easter Rat.

The bunny that delivers eggs and candy every Easter is a symbol for the holiday because rabbits are so fertile. Fertility represents new life, as in the risen Jesus who Christians celebrate on the holiday.

But other animals also reproduce quickly - including mice, gerbils and rats.

So why didn't the rat win out for the race to represent Easter?

"They're not as cute," says Robert Timm, associate curator at the Kansas University Natural History Museum.

The truth is the rabbit - or more accurately, the hare - has been a symbol of spring dating back to ancient Egypt.

Its fertile reputation is deserved. Rabbits can give birth to as many as nine young every 20-30 days, Timm says. Over the course of a year, that's a lot of rabbits.


Not impressed by the Easter Bunny? Maybe some of these rabbits hop up your alley.¢ Bugs Bunny (Warner Bros.)¢ Br'er Rabbit (American folktales)¢ Cadbury Bunny (promoter of Cadbury Eggs)¢ Cream the Rabbit (from "Sonic the Hedgehog" video game series)¢ Energizer Bunny (from battery commercials)¢ Hare (from the fable of "The Tortoise and the Hare")¢ Harvey (invisible rabbit from 1950 movie)¢ Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail")¢ Little Bunny Foo-Foo (from children's song)¢ Nesquik Bunny (promoter of chocolate milk)¢ Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter novels)¢ Playboy Bunny (magazine icon)¢ Rabbit (Winnie the Pooh's friend)¢ Roger Rabbit (title character from 1988 namesake movie)¢ Thumper (Bambi's friend)¢ Trix Rabbit (hawker of cereal)¢ Velveteen Rabbit (from 1922 Margery Williams book)¢ White Rabbit ("Alice's Adventures in Wonderland")

But there's more to the Easter/rabbit connection than fertility. The Egyptians were among several cultures around the world who thought they could see a rabbit in the face of the moon - their own version of the "man in the moon" concept.

After Christians decided to hold Easter each year depending on the lunar cycle - it's the first Sunday after the first full moon following March 21 - it was another connection between the rabbit and the holiday.

There are other theories for connections between the rabbit and the holiday. For instance, European hares burrow into the ground, so coming out of their holes could be analogous to Christ's rising.

Hare-raising experience

How the rabbit came to carry a basket and deliver eggs, candy and presents is probably a German tradition, writes Rachel Hartman in "The Joy of Easter."

"Nobody knows for sure where the Easter Bunny came from," she writes. "Each year parents have difficulty explaining why a rabbit should be bringing colored hen's eggs and why HE is laying eggs at all."

German settlers likely brought the tradition to the United States in the 1770s, Hartman writes.

Another set of authors - Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton and Marije Rowling, of Britain - carefully distinguish between the current Easter Bunny and the original Easter Hare.

"May we here make a plea for the reinstatement of the Easter Hare?" they write. "He is fast becoming an endangered species, owing to the increasing popularity of the 'Easter Bunny.' The rabbit, with its established communal life and reputation for timidity, presents a very different picture from that of the hare.

"The hare is a loner, creating the most transient of abodes. He is said to be a bold and courageous creature, and his upright stance is characteristic. His long ears suggest a wide and intelligent interest in the world, and in legend and folklore he is invested with the virtue of self-sacrifice.

"Because of all these attributes it is he, and not the 'Bunny,' who makes the more suitable 'Messenger of Christ' who roams the earth to bring to those who actively seek it the sign of new life in the Easter egg."

Rabbit religion

Ah, the Easter egg. When it comes to symbols of Easter, that's one Gary Teske can actually use when he teaches.

Teske is senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H. He admits he doesn't talk about bunnies much in church.

The egg is another story.

"The egg is a good one," he says. "It looks like a total inanimate object, and out of it, new life comes. It's a symbol of the tomb."

And, obviously, the egg itself brings a new life into the world. But that's not to say that Teske doesn't understand the symbolism behind the rabbit, too.

"Rabbits are notorious for multiplying like crazy," he says. "I grew up on a farm, and this time of the year baby rabbits were all over the place."

Rick Burwick, pastor at Clinton Parkway Assembly, 3200 Clinton Parkway, agrees that the egg gets used more directly in church teachings than the bunny does. But he's fine with sharing the holiday with a rabbit, too.

"I don't think it's negative to have the Easter Bunny. We have Santa Claus come at Christmas," Burwick says. "God is big enough for that.

"The egg is a great analogy for me. But if you want to use the Easter Bunny, that works. He comes to bring good things for us."


prioress 11 years, 2 months ago

All this gets amusing sometimes. Religions are ancient, and often built up like layers of dirt on a hillside. The Jews got monotheism from the Egyptians, the Christians got the Jesus myth (AKA the Essene TEACHER) from the Jews; then, when Christianity became politics, not necessarily a spiritual movement, they hijacked all the old holidays to get people to come along for the ride. Fall festivals are for harvest; winter festivals are for hoping the sun comes back; spring festivals are for fertility and renewal, hence the fertile little bunnies. The verbalizing ape seems to be programmed for spirituality, perhaps due to one side of the brain 'talking' to the other. The urge is nearly universal, even for those who have given up on the skygods, human sacrifice, etc.

Kathy Theis-Getto 11 years, 2 months ago

Well, if memory serves me correctly, the Jews did combine a couple of monotheistic religions; Akhnaten's and Zoroaster's. I am certain that Akhnaten was Egyptian, will have to review the rest. So, before you scoff at the statements prioress made, you might want to do some reading.

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