Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Truth About the Easter Bunny


Somewhere along the line (God only knows when), people decided that the Easter Bunny is evil. 
I've come to eat carrots and pillage
...and I'm all out of carrots.

History Channel and its ilk (i.e. Discovery Channel, the Internet) started preaching a while back that the Easter Bunny was some kind of pagan demon-rabbit left over from the pre-Christian days. 

Then, Evangelical Protestants pretty quickly jumped on the bandwagon, choosing to throw the Easter Bunny and his festive eggs on the (sometimes) proverbial evil-burnin’ fire along with Harry Potter books and joy.

But here’s the thing: whenever you see History Channel and Protestants uniting to say something’s pagan, it’s usually a pretty good tipoff that said-something actually has deeply Catholic roots. This rule holds true for Santa, Christmas trees, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and especially the Easter Bunny.

Before we get to the Easter Bunny’s origins story, however, let’s take a moment to debunk the popular argument for his paganism.

The trouble pretty much starts and ends with a 19th century piece on the origins of Easter customs written by Jakob Grimm (yeah, the fairytale guy). 
Ostara you... you have
a lil' something in your hair


In his writings, Grimm mentions an ancient Germanic fertility goddess known as Ostara who returned every Spring bringing rabbits and general sexiness. He cited this goddess as the origins of the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, and other fun stuff like that.

The problem with this theory is that Grimm was literally the only person to ever document any such custom. In fact, the mention of Ostara is almost a throw-away comment, making up no more than one sentence in his writings. This, coupled with the fact that Grimm was strongly anti-Catholic, means that using his writings as an argument for the Easter Bunny’s pagan origins is flimsy at best.

So what are the Catholic origins of the Easter Bunny?

Our story starts with crappy science. See, despite the fact that the Catholic Church pretty much invented science, the Middle Ages still put out some truly bizarre hypotheses regarding the natural world. Many of these animal “facts” were then picked up by clergy and religious artists to make theological points.
At first I thought this was
weird, but then...
No, it's weird.

For instance, the observation of the bizarre way a pelican feeds its young (vomit soup, anyone?) led medieval scientists to conclude that pelicans fed pieces of their own body to their babies. The Church then picked this up and rolled with it, using the pelican as a Eucharistic parallel in everything from paintings to stained-glass windows.

Now, as we all know, rabbits have a tendency to multiply like… well, rabbits. Today, we recognize that this is due to insane levels of copulation, but in the middle ages they blamed parthenogenesis. Unable to fathom any species that would mate that much, medieval scholars concluded that female rabbits could conceive without the necessity of males. Rabbits began to be associated with purity and perpetual virginity, white rabbits even more so.

It is widely believe that Jesus'
 favorite story was, "Pat the Bunny".
 Soon they were being used as symbols of the Virgin Mary, as seen in Titian’s Madonna of the Rabbit. Like Mary, therefore, the rabbit was seen in art as a herald for Christ, preparing the way for the Savior and pointing back to Him. This is especially interesting when one considers the fact that the Easter Bunny is traditionally held to visit on the eve of Easter (not Easter Sunday), heralding the resurrection on the following day.

The rabbit’s popularity only grew over the years, due both to its Marian identity in art and at least one major Eucharistic miracle associated with the animal (you can read all about how rabbits protected consecrated hosts from the elements here).

Pretty soon, the animal’s tendency to be viewed as a herald of Christ got it included in Easter festivities around Europe. It also wasn’t long before rabbits got lumped in with the popular European emphasis on eggs which were used to represent the tomb (dying eggs originates from when Catholics were not allowed to eat eggs during Lent. Rather than throw them away, Christians would pickle their eggs, coloring them any number of shades depending on the pickling method utilized. Hence, colored eggs in particular became associated with Easter).

Whether or not he came willingly is another story...

Rabbits and, by extension, their association with Easter eggs became so popular that, in 1682 when Archbishop Georg Franck von Frankenau published his dissertation De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs), he saw fit to include the French tradition of a hare bringing the colorful treats.

Eventually, as with most folksy holiday customs, Catholic immigrants brought the “Easter Hare” (or “Osterhase”) to America.



So there it is: The Easter Bunnies true (and distinctively Catholic) origins story. And if you’ve lived most of your life believing that Mr. Osterhase was pagan, it’s not too late! Go out, dye some eggs, buy yourself a candy bar, and make sure to pass along the truth behind this proud Catholic tradition.

5 comments:

  1. Actually although you are correct about the bunny origins you neglect to mention that Easter comes from the Celtic ester which was a fertility holiday of drinking and orgy. Due to the fact that nine months later babies would be born during spring when food was plentiful. The church took this day and placed it on Sunday the day for Ra the sun god worship and included it all in Easter with the resurrection myth to unite the empire under one state religion. Madison avenue advertising did the rest to create modern day Easter. Happy pagan drunken orgy day. Perhaps pick up some history and archeology textbooks and put you king James down.

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    1. once upon a time
      there lived a devil called Wrath
      taught everyone that love was trash
      then invented shame to play their game
      if isn,t gold you have no game

      then along came a virgo who knew no deciet
      who changlened their game
      of paper and cheats
      of spirits and lovelore
      who all know the truth
      Courage is finite
      not keept in the roof

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    2. Sorry, but your theory about the fertility holiday is just bunk. In every other European language Easter is referred to by a word derived from the Hebrew Pesach. In Italian it's Pasqua, in French Paques. The real origin of Easter is as a Hebrew holiday celebrating the release of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt. This is the festival Jesus was celebrating the Last Supper. The root of the English word Easter is unclear, it may be derived from an old fertility goddess who gave name to the season of the year, spring, which then transferred to the major Christian feast which also takes place at that time. But the etymology is disputed. Nonetheless, it is indisputable that what Christians really celebrate at Easter is Jesus rising from the dead on Sunday, the third day after he was crucified and buried. It has been celebrated since the very beginning and was not invented by King James. It never been about anything else, even if there were pagan holidays at the same time of year.

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  2. I suppose since paganism is basically everything non-Christian, that we will find some pagan meaning to virtually all of the 365 days of the calendar when we consider all the races and cultures of the world. I can honor God through any day or I can honor someone or something else. So many of the original meanings are no longer known that to me it is of little importance. What matters is why we observe any day. Yes I know Jesus probably was not born on December 25th and maybe was not resurrected exactly on Easter Sunday. However I agree with what the early church did to encourage pagan converts to credit God with observance of the day rather than any previous traditions. I find it preferable to remember the babe in Bethlehem on December 25th to the commercialism of Santa and I think Jesus deservs more credit than a bunny toting eggs on Easter. According to Romans 14:6 'whoever regards any day does so to the Lord and if they eat a feast on that day they give thanks to God because they pray to God giving thanks for the food.' Those who do not credit God simply do not do so. St. Paul was referring to Jewish feast days of course but this principle was expanded by the early Christian church to take over any pagan day and devote it to God.

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  3. Sorry about the late comment but a friend just gave me a link to your site and this excellent article. You may be interested in my recent post on "Giorgione et al..." on the Madonna of the Rabbit. Here ia a link.
    http://giorgionetempesta.blogspot.com/2014/01/titian-madonna-of-rabbit_7.html

    Frank

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