During Easter, the Easter bunny, or the Easter hare brings baskets filled with coloured eggs. Ever wondered where this tradition came from?
It turns out Easter actually began as a pagan festival celebrating spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Professor Carole Cusack from the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney broke down some of the common ideas surrounding the Easter celebration.
According to the professor people have celebrated the equinoxes and the solstices as sacred times since pre-historic times. The spring equinox is a day where the amount of dark and the amount of daylight is exactly identical, so you can tell that you’re emerging from winter because the daylight and the dark have come back into balance. In the past people mapped their whole life according to the patterns of nature.
Where does the name Easter come from?
The English word for Easter is derived from the name of a minor Anglo-Saxon goddess, Eostre, who was described in a book by the eighth-century English monk Bede. Eostre was a goddess of the growing light of spring and fertility. Feasts in her honour were often celebrated in April. In German, the word for Easter is “Ostern” and is derived from the German version of Eostre, called Ostara. In both these names the linguistic element meaning ‘east’ (eost, ost) reinforces the connection with spring and the rise of the sun.
While Christmas (the feast celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ) falls on 25 December every year, the date of Easter (the festival that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection), is not fixed and often falls anywhere between late March and late April. This is because the date attempts to reconcile the solar and lunar calendars.
In 325 AD the first major church council, the Council of Nicaea, determined that Easter should be the Sunday that follows the first full moon, after the Spring equinox (Autumn equinox in the Southern Hemisphere). Easter Sunday is therefore celebrated by Catholic and Protestant Christians on a Sunday between 22 March and 25 April.
Why the rabbits and eggs?
There are two reasons that hares/rabbits are associated with Easter:
1) They are known to breed rapidly, again creating a connection with new life and fertility.
2) In European folklore, hares were said either to lay eggs, or to hide the coloured eggs that children hunted for in the garden.
Eggs became associated with the Paschal feast in the early Christian era, as eggs are symbols of new life. In Spring, eggs provided a symbolic analogy of Resurrection; after the chill of the winter months, nature was coming to life again.