The Christians celebrate Easter in memory of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. However the celebration is accompanied in the same time by a pagan tradition according to which the children leave empty baskets on the evening before Easter and wait for the bunny to come and bring them sweets and painted eggs. How did this pagan symbol of fertility become an indispensable part of the traditional Christian Easter?
The precise origins of the image with the bunny bringing eggs are unclear, but what it can be said with certainty is that the bunnies represented a symbol of fertility since antiquity. Being very fertile (from here it comes the expression they breed like the rabbits) these animals have been and continue to be a symbol of sexuality. In contemporary culture Playboy magazine uses the image of the bunny as a means of promoting sexuality.
According to History Channel, The Easter bunny came to America for the first time around the year 1700 when a group of German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and brought with them a tradition about a rabbit that laid eggs and they called him „Osterhase” or „Oschter Haws”.
Their children built nests where the small bunny could lay his coloured eggs. In the course of time the habit spread in the whole America, changing slightly: the bunny was not bringing now only eggs but also sweets and the nests were replaced by baskets.
Barbara Mikkelson, from snopes.com, points out the fact that the eggs, symbols of fertility and renewed life as well were used by the Christians for referring to the Resurrection of Christ from the sealed tomb, from where a new life emerged.
The pagan symbols of Easter were often used by the Christian missionaries of those times when they preached the Word of God to peoples who did not have any Judeo Christian background, mentioned for Christian Post Dr. Quentin Kinnison, assistant professor of Contemporary Christian Ministration at the University Frenso Pacific.
Kinnison declares that the missionaries used the symbol of the eggs for identifying the essence of life and of Christ’s Resurrection. By using the symbols known by the populations where they activated, the Christian missionaries found modalities to preach Jesus Christ’s Gospel to cultures that were not familiar with the biblical stories.
However Kinnison warns us that we should be cautious in what regards this practice of integration of the pagan traditions in the Christian symbolism, saying that they become problematical when we lose the significance of the symbols, these being replaced by new or different cultural valences in contradiction with the Gospel.
Because Easter has become a commercial phenomenon, being full of pagan symbols which rather promote sexuality than the profoundness of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, pastor Jerold Aust, from the United Church of God, considers that modern Easter does not accomplish anymore its designation of commemorating Jesus Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.
He says that Easter, celebrated by knocking painted eggs and by promoting the image of the bunny, may rather be connected with the worshipping of the Babylonian goddess of fertility, Ishtar (from where it comes the English word of Easter) than with the worshipping of the resurrected Christ.