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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 15 Jan 2002

Easter QUESTION from Vince April 11, 2000 I'm curious how, what, and why the bunny rabbit and the egg came about of Easter. Does the bunny rabbit have anything to do with the real meaning of Easter. What does an egg have to do with the real meaning of Easter.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, O.L.S.M. on April 15, 2000 Dear Mr. Vince:
Actually, the egg has everything to do with Easter. Let us begin with that image.
The modern practice of the Easter Egg roll (which developed later into the Easter Egg hunt) began in 1873 when President and Mrs. Hayes had an Easter Monday roll on the White House lawn. This started a tradition.
But in fact, the idea is far older than 1873. The original egg roll custom was a specific image of rolling away the stone from the tomb of Jesus.
But the primary source of our Easter egg tradition comes from Germany in the 19th Century. Eggs were prohibited during Lent. At Easter eating eggs was allowed again. Thus is became a custom to paint the eggs as gifts to people in celebration of the end of Lent.
Painting eggs goes back even further in a Ukrainian folk tale.
A poor peddler went to the marketplace to sell a basket of eggs on day. He encountered a crowd mocking a man who staggered as he carried a heavy cross on which he was about to be crucified. Running to his aid, the peddler left the basket by the roadside. Upon his return, he found the eggs wondrously transformed with exquisite designs of bright colors. The man was Christ; the peddler, Simon of Cyrene. And the eggs were to become the symbol of rebirth for all mankind. Even today in the Ukraine, decorating pysanky, as the native eggs are called, is a treasured craft and custom. Thus eggs are rich with symbolism for Easter.
As for the Easter Rabbit: Today the Rabbit is a secular symbol, but that was not always the case. It was originally a religious symbol for the pagans. It begins with the legend of Eastre (Easter), the European goddess of spring. While this season of rebirth erupted with abundant new life, Eastre' pet bird would lay eggs in baskets and hide them in unlikely places. On a whim, Eastre transformed her bird into a rabbit but its egg-laying ways remained unchanged from its feathered past. Whether fowl of hare, Eastre's pet and its profligate produce represented abundant new life and earth reborn. Even back to the 16th Century, there is reference to an egg-laying rabbit.
There is another story of a woman in Germany who hid Easter eggs for her grandchildren. In the course of finding the eggs a rabbit happened to jump out from where some eggs were found. Thus a connection in the minds of the Children that the rabbit must have been the one to bring the eggs.
In any event, the rabbit is a symbol of rebirth. Thus is an appropriate symbol for Easter.
Easter Baskets, by the way, were originally baskets of fresh food. Just as new water was blessed on Holy Saturday, the fruit of the field was blessed on Sunday, with the people bringing baskets of fresh food to Church to be blessed.
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