There are some things in life that, no matter how many times I read them, hear them, look them up, or google them, I still can’t remember it the next time I need to. They aren’t important, of course. Else I would be sure to remember. They are simply random factual tidbits that pop up about once every 10 years, when you say, “Oh what was that again?”
Some of these include but are not limited to: the locations of previous Olympic games, which movie won the Best Picture Oscar last year, how to spell the word Mediterranean, and the names of Prince Charles’s siblings. See? Not important at all. Totally random. Still, when you know you’ve looked it up twice already, it’s annoying to do so again.
(For the record: Atlanta was the ’96 games; last year’s Oscar went to Birdman; there are 2 r’s with an e near the end; and Charles’s siblings are Anne, Andrew, and Edward. Hopefully I’ll remember now. (Doubtful.))
But there is one that pops up almost every year about this time. As I get ready to celebrate Easter, arguably the most important holiday of the Christian calendar, and as I see Easter items sold in every supermarket and drugstore I enter, I always ask, “What’s the deal with the eggs and the rabbit again?”
As usual, I forgot, even though I probably looked it up last year. So I looked it up this year (again), and wanted to share what I found with you so that we can all keep this information on hand for ease of future reference.
Much like Christmas–with its fir trees, yule logs, and flying reindeer–Easter also has additional celebratory elements it has collected over the centuries. As with many of our strange traditions, we can blame them on Medieval Europeans.
Some people think Easter has pagan roots, but it does not. The timing of it, in the spring, is connected to the Jewish holiday Passover, which Jesus observed with his disciples at the Last Supper on the night before he died. And since Passover is in the spring, so is Easter. Within a hundred years of Jesus’ death, his followers were already celebrating his resurrection every year on the Sunday after Passover.
Over time, Christians began to prepare for Easter in various ways, like with the season of Lent. During this 40-day time of preparation, people would make sacrifices and do without, reflecting Jesus’ 40 days of preparation when he fasted in the desert. By about 1000 AD, Lenten practices had become more official, and many churches actually forbid people to eat things like eggs, dairy products, and meat. One of the most famous Medieval theologians, Thomas Aquinas, did authorize the eating of candy during Lent, because he believed that sugared nuts and spices acted as digestive aids on par with medicine rather than food. (Sure they do. That’s my excuse too!) From then on, it was extra candy during Easter time.
When the season of Lent came to an end on Easter Sunday, people would get excited as they prepared to eat normal food again, like eggs. So on the day before Easter (Holy Saturday), many churches celebrated by having a blessing of eggs at church. The eggs were “gaudily decorated with the happiest of bright colours in anticipation of their return to the dining board, were exchanged as gifts among friends and relatives; quite naturally they became known as Easter Eggs” (source: Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages). Kings began distributing eggs to commoners, villagers gave Easter Eggs to their manor lords, and churches decorated eggs for poor children.
That covers the colorful eggs, but what about the rabbit?
Apparently, it came from Christians in Germany in the 1500s. They associated rabbits, hares, and bunnies with the new life of spring, since rabbits give birth to large litters in the early spring time. (Go figure.) In Medieval Germany, kids were told that “Easter Hare” would judge their behavior before the Easter season, and if they had been good, they would get Easter treats. You could say that, much like Santa, the Easter Hare “knows if you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sake!”
So there you go. Eggs and rabbits at Easter. It’s neat to think that over a thousand years ago, kids would go to their church on the day before Easter, smiling at the pretty colored eggs they found, and our kids will do that too! The smiles I see on the faces of the kids who come to our Easter Egg Hunt each year are inspiring. Their joy is downright explosive. When we fling wide the doors and release them to the churchyard of hidden eggs filled with candy, the excitement is palpable. It’s impossible not to smile as you watch them smile with every egg they find.
Easter is a time of joy. Just like the dark cold of winter is pushed out by the warmth of spring, the dark cold of our emptiness is pushed out by the warmth of Jesus. The loneliness of life and the fear of death are put aside on Easter, as we celebrate the unexplainable miracle of resurrection. May our joy be explosive on Easter Sunday, like a child at an Easter Egg Hunt. May we be thankful that death is not the final end to our existence.
As the Lenten season comes to a close, I hope you have a very happy Easter. Enjoy the sunshine, the newness of life, the fun eggs, and even the furry bunnies.
Grace and peace,
(P.S. This random fact also deserved to be shared: while looking up information on the Easter Bunny, I learned that in Australia, the preferred animal is the Easter Bilby. Apparently, bilbies are marsupials native to Australia, whereas rabbits are an invasive species there. In the 1980s, the bilby became endangered, so support grew for making it the Easter animal of choice. Kids receive stuffed bilbies in their Easter baskets, with bilby shaped chocolate. Crikey!)