Today marks the start of Easter Weekend, when Christians around the globe celebrate Jesus Christ being nailed to a cross and coming back to life three days later. Millions of Christians will pay their respects by attending Catholic masses and enjoying hearty meals.
Easter celebrations vary across the globe. In Bermuda they fly kites on Easter, in the United Kingdom they bake and eat Hot Cross buns to recognized the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and in Germany they celebrate by forbidding people from dancing. As varied as the celebrations are, in most Western cultures the celebration of Easter normally does have two constants, the Easter Bunny and painting eggs in various pastel colors and the subsequent hiding of said eggs.
To outsiders, and indeed many devout Christians, the relationship between the Crucifixion and Resurrection and the Easter Bunny and eggs seems a little weird, but believe me there indeed a very real connection between the two. At Easter Sunday dinners across the country, “where did the Easter bunny originate” and the “origin of Easter eggs” are discussed ad nauseam. So if you want to dominate the talk this Sunday, be sure to continue reading Live Toast’s meaning of Easter, the origin of the Easter Bunny, and why we paint and hide eggs on Easter.
The roots of the Easter Bunny in celebrations commemorating the resurrection of Christ can be traced to the early days of Christianity, when church leaders were in the process of converting thousands of skeptical Europeans to Christianity. As the elders of the Catholic Church were trying to convince people that Jesus actually did come back from the dead, they needed something to make the whole crazy escapade easier to swallow. In order to relate the story of the Bible to uncivilized barbarians, they tied in Christianity to various pagan holidays already being celebrated. When the villagers were partying it up, the Church would provide free food and booze and explain that they were gifts from Jesus and the Church. With the lure of booze and good times, the Church was able to grow the numbers of believers.
As many learned readers will know, Christmas was actually first called Saturnalia and was week-long celebration of anarchy. Because the Roman courts were closed for the week between December 17 and 25, nobody could be prosecuted for breaking the law, and folks wreaked all sorts of booze-fueled havoc with zero repercussions (don’t believe me? look it up). This lawless tradition can still be observed on any mall on Black Friday and Christmas Eve.
The Origin of Easter
In much the same way Christmas was adopted from a lawless celebration, the Easter holiday grew out of a celebration of springtime. After a long and cold winter, Germanic tribes would have a feast in the springtime celebrating the end of the cold days and toasting the good times just around the corner. The Germanic tribes held a celebration in honor of the goddess Ēostre (aka Ostara). So, in fact, the meaning of Easter is actually the ritual ancient pagans had to commemorate the rebirth of spring. In England they called the springtime feast “Pash” or “Pace,” from which the Spanish name for Easter “Pascua” was derived. Since the dawn of time, spring has seen the blooming of flowers, the lengthening of days, and, of course, courting and mating rituals. As the modern theologian George Costanza once said “Spring. Rejuvenation. Rebirth. Everything’s blooming. All that crap.”
By now you’re probably saying “Ok, so I get the spring aspect, but what about the Eastern Bunny origin?”
Why don’t you relax? I’m getting to that.
Easter bunny origin
What animal is most known for reproducing?
The rabbit of course! If there’s one thing rabbits are known for is their multiplication skills and reproducing at breakneck speed. Associating the bunny with the season most associated with doing what bunnies do just plain makes sense. And if anyone is known for being reasonable and practical it’s the Catholic church. With the Church aiming to make the transition from dirty hippie to civilized Catholic as painless as possible, they chose to continue to use the rabbit as a symbol for spring, and by association Easter and Jesus’s resurrection. And that is from where the Easter Bunny originated. So next time some asks “why the Easter Bunny,” or “what’s the Easter Bunny history,” you can tell them, its a leftover from ancient pagan celebrations of spring and its reproductive component.
Why Eggs on Easter?
“OK, now I get the Easter bunny part, but Andres, what’s up with painting the eggs?” you say.
Just like the connection between a rabbit and the human race’s lord and savior doesn’t make that much sense at first, the connection is obvious once it’s explained.
The connection of eggs to Easter can be traced, like so many aspects of life, to bacon. Painting Easter eggs dates back to when bacon was first discovered late in the Mesolithic era, when the side and back of a pig was first salted and fried. While the discovery of bacon ushered in a new era of culinary exploration, its effects on Easter would not be realized until about 50 BCE.
An about 50 BCE the Jewish Sage Hillel the Elder created the first sandwich with the sacrificial Paschal Lamb and herbs. “The ancient Jewish sage Hillel the Elder is said to have wrapped meat from the Paschal lamb and bitter herbs between two pieces of old-fashioned soft matzah, flat, unleavened bread, during Passover in the manner of a modern “wrap” sandwich made with flatbread.” [wikipedia]
While we can thank Hillel for many important events in human history, including the development of the Mishnah and the Talmud, our story relates to his brother Tony. Tony was always jealous of his brother and decided he need to one up his Paschal lamb sandwich with a one of his own; and one up him he did!
The genius of Tony was that he replaced lamb with bacon, and added eggs and cheese to the flatbread, creating the first bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. As you can imagine, the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich created quite a stir in ancient Babylon and the three ingredients became the most coveted food items in the world. At the time there was a shortage of chickens, so the eggs were the rarest of the ingredients. The ensuing manhunt for eggs of any and all varieties led innovative eaters across the Middle East to find all sorts of ways to keep their eggs to themselves. This is where the saying “Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket” comes from. At the time the complete saying was “don’t put all your eggs in one basket because then you won’t be able to have a bacon, egg, and cheese on Easter,” but it was shortened and now applies to more than just eggs.
In an effort to protect their eggs, people started hiding them in their backyards and in the woods. The scarcity of eggs was perhaps most pronounced on Chile’s Easter Island, where massive statues were erected to protect the eggs from thieves. The problem with hiding the eggs in the woods was that the white of the eggs made them easy targets for the bacon, egg, and cheese hungry folk. In order to help the eggs blend into the woods, the craftiest men and women would paint the eggs the color of the flowers and trees freshly coming out for Easter. By covering the eggs in vibrant pinks and purples, the eggs could be places betwixt budding flowers all over and they would camouflage with their surroundings.
Eventually, the scarcity of eggs diminished, however tribal leaders decided to hone the hunting skills of their children by having them find eggs before they could have a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. Finding the eggs is also a way to empower children. In essence its up to you to find your eggs. It provides agency. If the bunny just gave away eggs they wouldn’t appreciate the bacon, egg, and cheese nearly as much. Of course now that process has been perverted so that you get white sugar in various forms rather than eggs, much the same way gifting actual hearts on Valentine’s Day has given way to roses and chocolates.
And that is why the Easter Bunny brings us eggs on Easter. As for why the day of Christ’s crucifixion is called “Good Friday” I can’t help you there…