Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why Does the Easter Bunny Exist?

Ever wondered how the Easter Bunny came to be? Seems kinda far removed from the whole "savior of the world being resurrected" thing, doesn't it?

On Good Friday (possibly the least accurately titled holiday ever), Jesus was brutally executed. On the Sunday after his execution, the tomb that held his body was discovered to be empty, and it was determined that he had risen from Earth to heaven to be with God. That's the reason Easter exists to begin with.

It's not called "Easter" because this all happened far east of the United States. The word is derived from the ancient German month Eostur-monath (what is now known as April) which was named for the pagan goddess Ä’ostre. 8th century pagan Anglo-Saxons held feasts in her honor during this time of year to celebrate the blooming of Spring.

It just so happens that Jesus was offed right around the same time that this traditional festival came to be celebrated. When Christianity made its way to the highly pagan realms of Europe, the festival was replaced by Paschal month (known to Jews as Passover) and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. The original festival's name came along and evolved into the word Easter.

Christmas and Easter are two very similar holidays. They both celebrate the birth (or re-birth) of Jesus. They both have mascots that overshadow the whole Jesus thing. They both have traditions that seem wildly random.

Christmas has Santa, stockings, decorated trees, and seizure-inducing light shows. Easter has a bunny, eggs, candy, and baskets. Analyzing Christmas is for a different time, but why do we have such bizarre Easter traditions if it's all about Christ?

Remember that the resurrection celebration was rolled into an already-existing Springtime party celebrated by nature-happy pagans. Right around the month of April, stuff is growing. Flowers are blooming. Animals are coming out of hibernation to freely copulate with vigor. It just so happens that Jesus' re-birth is an excellent metaphor for fertility.

And what other symbol of fertility do we have? Eggs. Just about every animal comes from an egg of some sort, and chicken eggs are abundant and edible even after serving as holiday decorations. The tradition of adorning them most likely comes from ancient times in which eggs were boiled with fresh Spring flowers to create colorfully dyed hard-boiled eggs.

Rabbits, as well, have long been symbols of fertility. They're superfetative, which means that they can get pregnant with another set of babies before even giving birth to the first, and they hump like crazy when all the flowers are in bloom in the Spring. Maybe they find it romantic. (Also, they're cute. Frogs can lay 10,000 eggs at a time, but we don't have an Easter Frog.)

So, much like Christmas and Santa and the gift-giving frenzy that now defines it, Easter is marketed using a somewhat non-denominational symbol: The Easter Bunny. Businesses want to make money, and holidays are good times to catch people when they're willing to be less thrifty than usual because "it's a special occasion." Appealing to as wide a demographic as possible is generally more profitable, so rather than using Jesus to sell candy, the Easter Bunny became the official spokesperson of the season.

And that's how we got from this:

To this:

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