Pagan Cultural Rites Infiltrate the Christian Holiday
Ok. I am willing to give Santa Claus a break. Grudgingly. I understand that Christmas is overcapitalized and that the big man in the red suit is a shining example of that problem. However, because of the gift giving nature of the Three Wisemen, I suppose that I can turn a blind eye toward Santa. As long as he doesn’t get stuck in my chimney.
The Easter Bunny, on the other hand, get me a shot gun. It’s rabbit season. Every year I grimace as our church sponsors an Easter Egg Hunt on the front lawn. Someday, I am likely to go screaming through the middle of the hunt ripping baskets away from chocolate stained fingers and in wild whirl of plastic grass and cracked eggs scream to heaven, “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.” Then I will be quietly led away in a white jacket to a padded cell.
However crazy I may be, I will also be right. The origin of the Easter Bunny can be found during the 13th century in Pre-Christian Germany. At that time, the Germans followed a pagan religious in which they worshipped many Gods. One of these Gods was the Teutonic goddess Eostre. She was the goddess of spring and fertility. Traditionally, the Germans celebrated her by holding feasts on the Vernal Equinox. The symbol for Eostre was the rabbit because of it’s well known....ahem....legendary high rate of breeding. It’s a good thing that Wilt Chamberlain wasn’t alive back then.
Spring was also honored as a time of rebirth and new life. Eggs were central to this symbolic celebration as the represented both fertility and new life. When Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Germany during the 15th century it merged some of it’s traditions and beliefs with the former pagan religion. This was partly done to make an easier tradition from one dominant religious belief to another. Eggs, as a result came to symbolically stand for Christ’s Resurrection.
Stories of the Easter eggs being delivered by rabbits first started to appear in Germany during the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. In German folklore there are stories of the Easter Hare; which according to legend was a white hare that would leave baskets of candy, beautifully colored eggs, and other treats for children on Easter morning. So, it would seem that the Easter Bunny (or Oster Hawse) is borrowing liberally from Old St. Nick's bag of tricks as it would deliver brightly colored eggs to boys and girls who had been good for the previous year (or at least the last week).
This same Easter basket also has it’s origin with the pagan goddess Eostre. It was the custom of pagan worshippers to bring offerings of the early spring harvest to the fertility goddess. Often times, these offerings were baskets of eggs. German settlers then delivered the whole thing to United States when they began arriving as settlers durning the 18th century in the Pennsylvania Dutch country.