What’s a parent to do with the Easter bunny? How on earth did it end up at the foot of the cross of Christ? I used to think it was because the church had hijacked Easter from a pagan celebration, and some of the pagan symbols were still hanging around. But that’s not the case.
Origins of Easter
There is pretty solid evidence for Easter being an established church holiday by the middle of the 2nd century A.D., and it was definitely around by A.D. 325. That was the year that the church decided to stop marking the date for Easter by the Jewish calendar, and simply calculate it based on the spring equinox.
So Easter started out as a purely Christian celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection. But where did the Easter bunny and Easter eggs come in?
Symbols of Easter
Reading a few articles on this subject will make your head swim. There are all kinds of ways that eggs and bunnies might have become associated with Easter.
One possible way is that the egg and rabbit were traditionally associated with the Teutonic goddess Eostre as fertility symbols. When missionaries spread Christendom to the Anglo-Saxon people, they found that these people already had a spring-time festival celebrating Eostre, the goddess of fertility. These missionaries simply transplanted the church’s Passover/Resurrection holiday (which had been called Pascha until then) into the Eostre (Easter) traditions.
What makes the egg/bunny history so hard to trace is that many cultures regard eggs and bunnies as symbols of fertility. But, it does seem to be clear how the Easter bunny and eggs migrated to America. These symbols hit American shores when German immigrants came over. Their children would make nests for the “Easter bunny,” who was believed to lay eggs in the nest on the eve of Easter. Soon, non-German children wanted to participate as well. From there, I assume it was just a bunny-hop to the Easter baskets of today.
Explaining This to Kids
You’ll have to be the judge of what your child is capable of understanding about all these traditions. You may opt for the answer that I received as a child when I asked about how the Easter bunny ended up connected with Easter: “Eggs, rabbits, and lilies all remind people of new life in the springtime, and Easter celebrates the new life that Jesus came to bring us.”
Regardless of the way you choose to address this issue with your kids, I would encourage you to remind them that every Sunday is a Resurrection Sunday! Each Sunday is an anniversary when we celebrate Jesus’ power over the grave. Happy Easter!
For more information on the origins of Easter, check out the following sites: