This weekend signals the end of 40 days of fasting and prayer for Christians celebrating the Easter season. Holy Thursday is the observation of the Last Supper, where Christians believe Jesus Christ established the sacrament of Holy Communion and formed the priesthood that would serve after Him. Good Friday commemorates His crucifixion and death, while Easter Sunday celebrates His resurrection from the dead and the cleansing of humankind’s sins.
Somewhere amid all this solemnity, we ended up with the Easter Bunny. It’s a jarring addition to an otherwise imposing occasion, like paying homage to the Battle of Gettysburg with “Winky, The Gettysburg Gopher.” How did such a grave event end up with this unlikely mascot?
To begin with, the concept of today’s Easter Bunny (the one that adorns kids books and makes children cry at local mall photo ops) was appropriated from the German “Osterhase,” or “Easter Hare.” This leporid judge decided whether children were good or bad before delivering colored eggs and toys to their houses. The hare was popular in medieval church art because many thought the hare was a hermaphrodite; its ability to reproduce while maintaining its virginity lent an association with the Virgin Mary.
Because some Christian sects would abstain from eggs during Easter season, the only way to keep them from being wasted was to boil or roast them. As the tradition grew, children would make nests for the Easter Hare to lay its colored eggs and leave carrots to keep it in ketosis. (OK, I made the ketosis part up, but the rest is true.)
Like most things Americans get their hands on, we took someone else’s history and ran with it. We turned the hare into a rabbit, the nests into baskets, and the colored eggs into a goldmine. Easter is second only to Halloween as the best-selling candy holiday in the U.S. Instead of giving those eggs to deserving kids, the Easter Bunny hides them throughout the house and lawn (where some go unfound and require an exorcism to get rid of the smell). The eggs gave way to jelly beans in the 1930s, those colored sugar pellets looking suspiciously as if the Easter Bunny was leaving the physical evidence of his last meal. I still prefer them over Peeps, those dreaded marshmallow chicks with a shelf life as long as the good Lord Himself. It’s as if someone in marketing said, “Delivering baby birds in the shell isn’t enough. What if we had children eat the very birds themselves?”
If a magical hare sentencing children before delivering baby chickens didn’t lose you already, ask yourself this disturbing question: How is the rabbit getting all those eggs? Technically, the kids who receive them are in possession of stolen property, and someone should be issuing an Amber Alert on behalf of those poor hens.
The Easter Bunny has become the commercial bookend to Santa Claus in commemorating the life of Jesus in the minds of Christian children. I don’t know if that’s the best way to honor His life, but our choices of these unlikely mascots certainly says a lot about us.
For those of you celebrating Easter or Passover this weekend, I wish you all the happiness and hope that comes with the celebration of these important holidays. For those of you trying to figure out why we’re suddenly surrounded by chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks, I’m afraid this was the best I could do.
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