|The Story Behind the Easter Bunny|
Published: Friday, 30 March 2012 00:31
Easter eggs and the Easter bunny have become an integral part of celebrating the day Christians recall the Resurrection of Christ. However, despite their names, these rabbits and eggs have nothing to do with the Resurrection.
The tradition of using eggs and rabbits this time of year is rooted in a time before Christianity reached across Europe.
Easter gets its name from the dawn goddess of fertility, Eostre (The word "estrogen" is related to the goddess's name). In 725, in his treatise The Reckoning of Time, the English monk Bede introduced Eostre to his fellow Christians. He mentioned the goddess as he discussed how Christians reckoned the date to celebrate. Bede also wrote about Eosturmonaþ (our month of April) when the native Saxons held feasts in Eostre's honor. Bede pointed out that these celebrations had died out by the time he penned his discourse.
Eostre took her name from the ancient word for spring, eastre. Other cultures worshiped similar goddesses with names not unlike Eostre's. The Phoenicians revered Astarte; the Assyrians, Ishtar; and the Norse, Ostara.
As a goddess of fertility, Eostre's traditional symbol was the egg, a symbol of rebirth. The festival that honored her celebrated the cyclical return of light and life with fertility rituals and symbols. Some still survive in the modern observance of the Christian holiday of Easter, which traditionally falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.
Customs survive not only in the form of egg rolling and Easter egg hunts, but also in the quaint superstitious belief, most often attributed to the Chinese, that you can stand raw eggs up on their ends during the first day of spring. Apparently this derives from the notion that due to the sun's equidistant position between the poles of the earth at the time of the equinox, special gravitational forces apply.
Rabbits and hares, like eggs, are fertility symbols of antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these animals became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the vernal equinox. For example, female hares can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first.
One legend links the egg and the rabbit, perhaps explaining how they both have come to symbolize Easter. Eostre was walking one fine spring day and came upon a bird with a badly injured wing. Eostre knew that wing was so badly damaged that the bird would never be able to fly again even after she healed the injured wing.
The goddess decided to help the bird by healing it in a way that would give it mobility and a little something more. She turned it into a rabbit. During the transformation, the rabbit retained the ability to lay eggs. The rabbit was so grateful to Eostre for saving its life that she laid a sacred egg in Eostre's honor. The rabbit decorated the egg and then presented it to the goddess, or so the story goes.