Few holidays are stranger than Easter. It’s a mixture of ghosts, angels, giant rabbits, colored eggs and Pagan rituals combined with Christianity, Mardi Gras and virgin births. If aliens ever land on our planet, we’ll have a difficult time explaining it to them.
Easter starts with a ghost story. After a celebrated man is brutally murdered, his body disappears from the grave. As a group of women approaches the tomb where he was hastily buried, two angels appear and tell them that the man has been risen from the dead. He later appears to one of the women, asking her to tell his friends that he’s okay. That evening, he shows up once more at his friend’s house as they are having dinner. He shows them the wounds that were inflicted on him and gives them comfort in his passing. In today’s world, such an event would having the makings of a great horror film.
Fast forward to the current day and we add giant rabbits, colored eggs, and a bounty of chocolate candy and pink marshmallows to the mix. How did it all come to be?
Although Easter is truly a Christian holiday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, it has Pagan roots, as well. The name Easter itself is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. People held feasts in her honor during the period of Ēosturmōnaþ, an ancient celebration held during the month of April.
Combining a Pagan goddess with the celebration of a Christian icon was a large enough stretch, but adding rabbits to the mix brings this holiday to a brand new level of strangeness.
Some feel that rabbits became lumped in with the holiday because of their proficient breeding periods in the springtime of the year. In ancient times, people mistakenly believed that rabbits were hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female reproductive organs, resulting in virgin births. Dressing a rabbit in clothes and making him six feet tall was another interesting addition.
While it’s difficult to track the first Easter Bunny sighting, many believe the legend immigrated to the United States in the 18th century when Protestant Germans brought the culture with them. Their children were told tales of the “Osterhase” a giant hare that looked down over children, determining if they were good or bad. If they were good, the hare left them gifts of colored eggs in their bonnets. Children often left carrots hidden in the grass to lure the hare to the yard, which could lend itself to the current practice of hiding colored eggs in the grass.
The egg itself is an interesting addition to the hodgepodge holiday. Eggs have long been a symbol of new life, so it makes sense that they might be notable in the spring, but colored eggs? This practice became popular in the 13th century as a celebration for the ending of Lent, a forty-day period of penance and fasting to honor the period of time when Jesus of Nazerath was fasting in the desert, while subsequently being tempted by the devil. When Lent was over, the eggs were decorated and then eaten on Easter Sunday. The rest of the holiday can be attributed to the overly commercial nature of the world in general. Once Hershey and Hallmark got a hold of it, it became a different holiday altogether.
Mardi Gras is also associated with Easter. Even though its origins are Pagan in nature, celebrating spring and fertility, it has Christian roots, as well. People would binge on food and drink in preparation for several weeks of fasting between Lent and Easter. The French labeled the day before Ash Wednesday as Fat Tuesday, due to the practice.
Creepy Easter Bunny pictures became part of the culture in the late 1950’s. It’s a tradition we could have done without.