Easter is one of the most important Christian festivals. But also a party with quite a few 'strange' side effects: what do the Easter bunny and Easter eggs do in your garden, for example?
Christians celebrate worldwide at Easter. They celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, Christ died on Good Friday on the cross and then rose again from the dead after three days. Christians believe that Christ died for their sins and, by rising, conquered sin and death. Anyone who believes in Christ and genuinely repents his sins may therefore be assured that eternal life awaits after death.
Those who take a walk through the supermarket shortly before Easter, however, see little of this Christian celebration. Hare and Easter eggs dominate instead. They certainly do not come from the Bible, but where do they come from?
The Easter Bunny
The story of the Easter Bunny has its origins in Germany, even before Christianity played a role here, says researcher and writer Kevin Shortsleeve, associated with the Christopher Newport University. The story of the Easter Bunny would have its origins in the Teutons: a Germanic tribe that disappeared from the world stage in the last century BC. The tribe held various myths, including stories about the goddess Ostara. One of these stories tells how a little girl found an injured bird. She prayed to Ostara for help. The goddess came running. She saw that the bird was in very bad shape and turned it into a hare. She told the girl that the hare would come back once a year to lay colored eggs.
Initially, stories like these were passed on from generation to generation. That is why there are also different versions of this myth. There is another version in which the little girl plays no role. In this story, Ostara is the goddess who ensures that spring begins. The story goes that the goddess was a little late in a certain year and the spring started late. To make up for her mistake, she decided to save a young bird that had almost collapsed due to the cold. But the cold had already done its job: the bird could no longer fly. The goddess then turned the bird into a hare. The hare was able to lay eggs one day a year: on the day Ostara was worshiped.
Around the fifteenth century, people began to write down the myths - which differ slightly but lead to the same outcome - a hare that lays eggs. "And around 1680, the first story of a hare laying eggs and hiding them in the garden was published," says Shortsleeve. The story would give rise to new traditions: German children put hats or hats in the garden and on Easter morning these were filled with eggs. German immigrants are said to have brought the story and traditions that had come together with it to the US. And they gladly took over the traditions. The real eggs gradually made way for chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies made of sugar and chocolate also started to appear.
Photo: Oldiefan / Pixabay
The story of the goddess could explain why we associate the hare with spring. But what does it do at the Christian feast of Easter? Some think that's the work of missionaries. In an attempt to convert pagans, they combined pagan rituals with Christian rituals. The result was Christian holidays with pagan influences. In the case of Easter: the resurrection of Christ and the hare laying eggs created by Ostara.
Although this is a common explanation for the presence of the Easter Bunny, scientists do not necessarily agree that it is true. In fact, there is strong doubt as to whether Ostara was ever really honored. The evidence for this is paper thin: the oldest writing in which the goddess is mentioned, dates from the eighth century. The monk Bede writes about the goddess in his book in 725 The temporum ratione. In the book he describes, among other things, the origin of the names that have months in some areas. He is therefore referring to the month of April, which the Latin calls Eosturmonath. "Eosturmonath (...) is named after their goddess, named Eostre, in whose honor parties were organized in that month." In his book 'Deutsche mythology'he mentions the goddess repeatedly and for the first time he explicitly links her to all sorts of rituals that pop up around Easter. Whether that is right, scientists do not yet agree. Critics suspect that Grimm used his poetic freedom when he used the story of the goddess to explain the Easter rituals.
But if the goddess cannot explain why we eat eggs (whether or not laid by an Easter bunny), are there any other possible explanations? Yes. The egg is traditionally considered as a symbol of rebirth. Not only here in the west, but also further away. Did you know, for example, that the Persians usher in the new year with painted eggs? Such a symbol of being born again at Easter on the table is not so bad. After all, Easter is also about being born again: Christians celebrate that Christ conquered death, rose from the dead and paved the way to paradise. Thanks to their God, Christians can make a new start and eternal life awaits them. The egg as a symbol of rebirth can therefore come from many sources. And perhaps the Easter bunny was invented later, so it was not the Easter Bunny, but the egg first.
Would we ever find out exactly where the Easter Bunny and his eggs come from? The chance seems small. Different stories, myths and symbols form a tangle that we call 'Easter' today. It seems impossible to roll the tangle and find out the origin of each ritual. Too many storylines have become too closely intertwined over the centuries for this. And so the Easter Bunny remains a mystery for the time being. But don't let your Easter weekend thwart there: happy Easter!