For the very little ones in the family, Easter 2011 will be the first Easter they celebrate. For others, this is one of many Easters that have been enjoyed throughout the course of their lifetimes. While having the fortune of celebrating many Easters is a good thing, one unfortunate outcome is we experience so many Easters we start to take the holiday for granted. The origins of Easter become somewhat peripheral and that is a great shame. Easter truly is a vaunted and valuable holiday for many which is why its history and traditions are so well worth remembering and honoring.
Easter is frequently considered the most important of all Christian holidays. Yes, it can be considered even more important that Christmas. The Christian tradition of Easter entails celebrating and memorializing the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his passing from crucifixion. This holiday is intended to acknowledge the divine nature of Jesus and to reflect on his ascent into heaven for the forgiveness of humankind’s sins.
So, where does the Easter Bunny fit in?
No, this is not stated as a flippant segue. It is simply stated so bluntly that when we do not reflect on 2,000 years of history we lose some insights into the totality of a holiday’s tradition. The Easter Bunny is a whimsical symbol of the Easter Holiday that emerged innocuously and became far more popular than people imagined.
In many ways, the concept of an Easter Bunny is similar to that of Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny rewards young children for being good by providing them with candies, toys, bright colored eggs, and sometimes even Easter greeting cards. The image of the rabbit as a gift giver likely dates back to the Holy Roman Empire and, like many Roman/Pagan symbols, it was incorporated into Christian symbolism and given a more positive image and meaning. The symbol of the rabbit in pre-Christian Rome was representative of fertility and is a far cry from the wholesome image the Easter Bunny presents today.
The modern concept of The Easter Bunny dates back to the 17th century in Germany. The concept of an Easter Bunny helped children too young to understand the full significance of Easter to enthusiastically celebrate it.
The Easter Bunny remained a German tradition almost exclusively until the 18th century when immigrants to America brought with them their culture and traditions. There clearly was a huge benefit to welcoming the Easter Bunny to the new world: he helped children behave! Remember, only those children that were good would receive bright colored eggs in a basket on Easter morning. The promise of such a gift could certainly motivate a young one to behave properly.
The holiday of Easter, like so many holidays, can be considered an amalgam of various cultural traditions. In many ways, this is a good thing because it allows the holiday to remain perennially popular.