We Americans have done it again.
“Done what again?” you ask.
Many of our traditions were brought to what is now the United States by the immigrants who braved the unknown and came here hoping for a better life… our ancestors. Easter traditions are no different. And in absorbing those traditions into American culture, often we didn’t get it quite right… or else we were consciously attempting to be different, but I don’t believe that applies to religious traditions brought from Europe to North America.
So what happened?
Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but nowhere in scripture, in any version of the Bible, do we find a reference to a long-eared, short-tailed creature who delivers decorated eggs to well-behaved children.
However, the association between Christianity and the Leporidae family [which includes the species of rabbit and hare] is not totally off the wall. First, because these animals are prolific procreators, hare and rabbits are ancient symbols of fertility and new life, and often associated with springtime.
In ancient times, the Greeks believed the hare was a hermaphrodite and able to reproduce without a male. The idea that hares could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary. The result was the hare appearing in paintings of the Virgin and Christ child.
The Madonna of the Rabbit by Tizian
▼Photo Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_of_the_Rabbit
We now know female rabbits and hares can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first, resulting in them being able to give birth seemingly without having been impregnated.
Some believe it may have been related to the Holy Trinity because of the three hare motif found in works of art throughout the world as early
as the 6th century. Photo source: feelguide.com/meaning-of-the-three-hares ▼
While Easter is a Christian holiday with its roots firmly embedded in religion, the symbols of this Holy Day, as with many holidays and celebrations, evolved from ancient pagan legends and rituals. Even the English word for Easter is derived from the Anglo Saxon name for Eostre or Eastre, the German goddess of Spring and the Dawn. Logically, her celebration was the spring solstice and her symbol – surprise, surprise – the hare.
▼Photo source: mysticalshores.com/goddess-Eostre
However, according to www.catholic.org/lent/ there is no evidence of any pagan correlation.
Eventually, this legend morphed into a German tradition for the celebration of Christian Easter. Thus, the egg-laying hare called “Osterhass” [also “Oschter Haws”] traveled to North America in the 1700s with the German Lutheran immigrants who settled in Pennsylvannia, where Osterhass continued to play the role of evaluating whether children had been good or bad before the start of the season of Eastertide. The tradition spread to other parts of the country and is now international. Chinese Easter Card ▼
The way in which the tradition evolved into The Easter Bunny has nothing to do with religion or paganism. It has to do with Zoology and accuracy.
All of the ancient references and German customs refer to a hare, not a rabbit. The mistake is, apparently, a general assumption that rabbits and hares are the same animal. We seem to use the words interchangeably.
Rabbits and hares are not at all the same. They are both part of the same order of mammals, the same family – Leporidae – but they are a different species, just like sheep and goats are species of the family Bovidae [mammals with hoofs]. Chances are, if you referred to a sheep as being a goat, someone would correct you.
They live in different types of habitat, eat different kinds of food, have different mating habits and gestation periods. They are also different in how fast they can run and in many other ways which I won’t bother you with. Both are native to North and South America, Europe and Asia.
HOW DID THE MEDIEVAL EASTER “OSTERHASS” [HARE] BECOME A RABBIT?
It doesn’t matter. In reality, neither one can lay eggs, and the Easter Hare still delivers eggs in the Czech Republic.
▼ Photo source: http://philatelier.over-blog.com/2019/03/lapin-ou-lievre-de-paques.html
- HAPPY EASTER!