The Easter Bunny is a beloved trope associated with the Easter holiday period. The rabbit has pre-Christian roots associated with fertility, new life, and spring. However, early Christians weaved the pagan symbolism of the rabbit into their Christian traditions to make the teachings of Jesus Christ more amenable to those outside of the faith.
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What Is the Easter Bunny’s History and Origin?
The origin of the Easter Bunny can be dated back to the 13th century in Germany.
The Germanic folk, known as the Teutons, worshiped pagan gods and goddesses. One such goddess was Eostra (otherwise known as Ostara or Ēostre). She was revered as the goddess of fertility and spring. The word “Easter” finds its etymology from the goddess’s name.
Due to its prolific breeding tendencies, the rabbit became a symbol for Eostra.
How Did the Rabbit Symbol Become Connected to Easter?
In AD 595, 40 Roman monks were sent by Pope Gregory to England with the assignment of converting the Anglo Saxons to Christianity.
Under the Pope’s instructions, the 40 missionaries convinced the pagan Britons to integrate their ancient celebrations with Christian festivities, where both festival calendars coincided.
The amalgamation of these two traditions is evident in the observation of the Easter celebration. Like their Germanic forefathers, the Teutons, the Anglo-Saxons worshiped the goddess Eostra and held feasts in her honor on the March Equinox. Concurrently, in Western Europe, Easter was marked on the ecclesiastic calendar to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox.
Hence, the Roman monks were able to encourage the Britons to accept the celebration of Jesus Christ's resurrection at Easter, while at the same time, continuing their worship of the goddess Eostra and revering her motif, the rabbit.
Almost a century later, the first documentation of the Easter Bunny was recorded in the form of a myth in the 1500s.
The legend of the Easter Bunny was fortified through the traditions of German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania Dutch County in the United States in the 1700s. Consequently, the first fictional story of the Easter Bunny was published by the 1680s.
Over time, the Easter Bunny and the hunt for his Easter eggs have become a cultural association of the Easter holiday, especially for children.
What Are Other Pagan Traditions That Are Connected to Christian Holidays?
Some of our Christian holidays retain a vestigial of ancient pagan rituals.
Just as we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 as the One who brought us out of the darkness of death and sin and into the light of Salvation, so also did the ancient Romans celebrate the Saturnalia Festival, named after Saturn, on the same day. The celebration was to mark the passing of the longest night of the year with gift-giving, a public banquet, and other festivities.
Another Christian festival that has a common denominator with ancient festivities is Halloween. Though it may be known to some as the celebration leading up to All Saints Day, its roots can be traced back to the ancient Celtic holiday Samhain, which was celebrated around the 9th century to honor the seasonal transition into the winter months and the death of vegetation through crop harvesting and bitter frosts.
During Samhain, the Celts believed that the spiritual barrier between the dead and the living was at its thinnest, therefore, they dressed up as monsters and animals to protect themselves. As the festival continued to be celebrated into the Middle Ages, Jack-o-lanterns made out of turnips and potatoes became a favorite accompaniment to the festivities. Later, these vegetables were replaced with pumpkins.
What Does the Bible Say about Cultural and Religious Practices?
In Colossians 2:8, Paul warns us of falling prey to thoughts and practices that are based on human traditions:
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
That being said, Paul's desire was to share the truth of God’s Word through love and encouragement to those who followed schools of scholarly or cultural thought.
In Acts 17:16-33, Paul’s concern that mankind be aware of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ and discard any other cultural or philosophical practices is evident when he addresses the Athenians at the Areopagus.
Without condemning the people of Athens or their idolatrous and cerebral pursuits, Paul praised the people for their solemnity as worshipers and thereby established common ground between himself and them; however, his emphasis was that God was a living God, the creator of Heaven and Earth who resurrected the dead, whereas the Athenians were ignorant of the essence of the idols and philosophies that they held in such high esteem.
By using this encouraging approach, Paul succeeded in converting some of the crowd at the Areopagus into believers of Christ.
Should Christians Stay Away from Secular Easter Practices?
One of the fun things about Easter is eating chocolate Easter Bunnies, painting eggs, and taking part in Easter Egg hunts with your kids; it is a wonderful way to create wonderful memories with your family. However, it is ultimately a personal choice whether you celebrate these secular traditions or not.
What is most important, is keeping in mind what Easter is essentially about — the resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross enabled our salvation and an eternal place beside our Father at His heavenly throne.
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Madeline Kalu is a Christian writer and the co-founder of Jacob’s Ladder Blog. She was born in England but currently lives in Germany with her husband, Solomon. As a response to the fear, anxiety, and despair generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jacob’s Ladder Blog has written a free EBook titled “More than Conquerors through Christ” to encourage, strengthen, and give hope in the midst of this pandemic. You can download the EBook or read it online at www.jacobsladderblog.com.