A rabbit that delivers colorful eggs the night before Easter, a major Christian holiday is quite the oddity. If you honestly stop and think for a moment, Easter is about the death and resurrection of Jesus. So how in the world was this rabbit and its colorful eggs able to fit into the mix? The answer to this question may in fact, just raise a "hare" or two.
Lutheran German Settlers and the Original Tradition
As history teaches us, it was the Lutheran German settlers that introduced this tradition to America in the 1700’s. As you may recall, Americans today refer to them as the Pennsylvania Dutch. This is a common misconception, but these people are in fact German.
As the tradition goes, the children of the German settlers would construct nests the night before Easter for the rabbit to place its colorful eggs in. Much like Santa Clause at Christmas time, if the children were good all year round, the rabbit would leave toys and candy inside the nests. As a thank you and a treat to the rabbit for all of its hopping around, the children would leave the rabbit snacks like carrots or celery. As you can see, there are strong similarities between between the German traditions of Easter and Christmas.
With all that being said, this brings us to a very important question. How did the Lutheran German settlers pick up the original tradition? To begin, you need to understand that the early Europeans were a mixed religious pot. Just like today, there were Jews, Christians, Muslims and Pagans. Now the first three religious groups are the most known to us. However you may or may not have heard to much about the Pagans. To begin, Pagans were nature worshipers. To them, the sun, moon and the Earth provided the very necessities that people and animals required to survive on a daily basis. The sun gives the people and Earth its warmth and light. The Earth therefore gives birth to crops and fruit for the people and animals to eat and live upon. For those reasons, the Pagans worshiped all things about nature.
During the Spring Equinox, the nature worshipers would celebrate their Goddess Oestre or Eastre. I am sure that it would surprise you to know that people today still acknowledge this deity. Today however, this goddess is more lovingly known to us all as “Mother Nature”. You can also see that it is not too hard to understand where we have adopted the term Easter from.
To our nature worshipers, the Goddess Oestre or Eastre represented fertility and new life. Remember at this time of the year, the people were coming out of winter, which was a time of sickness and death. The warmth of the spring air and growing of the plants around them was a huge time of celebration. Animals were coming out of hibernation and the Earth was producing food and resources that the people desperately needed.
The Bunny & The Eggs
In particular, the one animal that the Pagans celebrated the most at this time of the year, was the rabbit. Have you ever hear of the expression, “multiply like rabbits”? It was that very idea behind the expression that our Mother Nature worshippers celebrated the most. The concept that the rabbits could give life in such high volume during the spring time was a huge cause for celebration for them. The goddess Oestre was blessing the Earth with new life which in turn was going to provide food and comfort to the people.
In addition to the rabbit, the Pagans also held the egg in high honor. What was so fascinating about the egg that they celebrated it as well? The same concept behind the high volume multiplying rabbits was the very same idea about why they celebrated the eggs. During the sping time, the Pagans were seeing the birds laying their eggs and giving birth to multiple babies at a time. Therefore the egg was celebrated because it was the very vessel that Mother Nature used to spring forth the Earth with its new life.
Ancient Traditions Merge
So how did the German Christian settlers incorporate the tradition of celebrating a multiplying rabbit and life giving eggs with their celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus? The answer to this question lies in the mission of the Roman emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. In the year 325, Constantine and the Council of Nicaea sought to merge the religion of the Pagans with the religion of the Christians. The mission sought out was to convert the Pagans to Christianity but in a way as not to shock them and completely turn them away. Constantine and Council of Nicaea came to the conclusion that if they were able to get the Christians and Pagans to celebrate similar holidays on the same day, then conversion would go more smoothly.
With all that being said, on the one hand you have the Pagans celebrating fertility and Mother Nature giving them new life. On the other hand, you have the Christians celebrating Jesus conquering the grave and giving us everlasting life. Constantine knew that converting the Pagans to Christianity was not going to happen overnight, but it would eventually happen as the years passed by. As the years did pass by with the Pagans and Christians celebrating side by side, it was only a matter of time before some of the traditions of the Pagans rubbed off onto the traditions of the Christians. With regards to Easter, it was the tradition of the rabbit and the eggs.
Christian or Pagan ?
So are the Easter bunny and the eggs that are delivered a Christian or a Pagan tradition? They are in fact 100% Pagan, however they are in fact a great way to share our Christian faith with our family and friends. To the Pagans, Mother Nature showed them new and everlasting life through the use of the bunny and eggs. On the other hand, we Christians can use the history of the bunny and the eggs to share the new and everlasting life that Jesus offers through our faith.