Who is the Easter Bunny?

I awoke one Easter morn
To a golden dawn aglow;
And a rabbit with a rainbow basket
Through my garden did quietly go.

With colorful eggs asunder  
Pray thee, I shall not blunder;
With daffodil and lily in hand
Onto my porch he did softly land.

Imagination? for surely it must be
But how could this hare possibly foresee?
Whence his basket I had grasped 
And with chocolate within       
An Eternal grin companioned 
A heart full of glee.

from On Easter's Morrow, Author Unknown                           

    Our present-day term Easter arises out of our word east. Since the East is the geographical point where the sun rises at daybreak, Easter's sunrise services are connected to this concept. The modern term orient (as opposed to occident), originally meaning "rising" in Latin, has a parallel origin. The Indo-European root prefix aus- is the lingüistic source of many such terms as east and dawn. The Latin aurora and the Greek aúos contained both connotations. Its Germanic descendant austo- produced the German ost, the Dutch oosten, the Swedish öster, and the English east, with this latter term having been borrowed from the modern French est. Easter is always celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Therefore, Easter Sunday can only fall between the dates of March 22nd through April 25th.

    The ancient Germanic peoples of prehistory had a goddess named Austron, originally the Goddess of Dawn. They held a festival in her honor during the months of spring, in accordance with the warmer weather. The ancient Saxons had celebrated the return of spring with uproarious festival fires commemorating their goddess of offspring. From the Old Saxon Austron and eventually evolving into Olde English, her name became Èastre, which is assumed by etymologists to be the true source of our modern holiday's name of Easter. Modern German's Frohe Ostern  (Happy Easter) has sprung from this same source. Even the modern females' name Esther, taken from Biblical times, is related to our word Easter.


    In modern Spanish, the term Pascua means Easter, as in Feliz día de Pascua for "Happy Easter (Sunday)". Yet the plural Felices Pascuas can also mean "Happy Easter", depending on such factors as regional variation, in reference to the numerous days of Holy Week. From an ancient Hebrew word for Passover, Pesach, has come the term for Easter in many languages: the Greek Pascha, the Norwegian Paaske, the French Pâques, and the Spanish Pascua. The modern English equivalent of Passover in today's Spanish is Pascua de los hebreos, literally "Easter of the Hebrews".

    From the Old Testament of the Bible, the Book of Exodus tells us the story of how the Hebrew slaves, who were being held in bondage by Rameses the Second of Egypt circa 1150 B.C., took flight from the Land of the Pharaohs. Pharaoh decreed that the angel of Death was to destroy the firstborn of Israël, yet the cherub or "guardian Angel of God",  passed over the households of the Hebrews. This allowed them to survive Rameses's wickedness and ultimately permitted them escape through the Red Sea and into the land of freedom across the river Jordan. Today as throughout Jewish history, the most important event of Passover is the ceremonial dinner called the Seder. This commemoration honors the exodus of the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt, their receiving of the Torah or the Jewish Holy book, and their entrance into the land of freedom in Canaan.


    For Christians, Easter has taken on the concept of Resurrection, from both a physical standpoint (as in Spring's renewal or rebirth) and from a spiritual perspective (illuminating the Holy Spirit or Christ-consciousness within the individual). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, or La Semana Santa in Spanish. The fifth day of Holy Week is Holy Thursday, Green Thursday, Pure Thursday, Clean Thursday (from times of antiquity when bathing was a luxury), or Maundy Thursday. This term maundy comes to us from the Roman's Vulgar Latin word meaning "commandment". This, in turn, is followed by Good Friday, the Spanish equivalent being el Viernes Santo, when Christ met his physical death on the cross at the hands of the Romans and resurrected (rose from the dead) on Easter Sunday.

    The term resurrection comes to us from the Latin verb surgere, meaning "to lead up from below" or "to rise". This originated as a compound verb formed from the prefix sub- , or "up from below", and regere meaning "to rule or lead". This Latin infinitive regere is the lingüistic source of the modern English terms regiment, regimentation, regency, and region. English acquired these words by means of the Old Spanish surgir (to come forth) and the Old French sourgir of the same connotation. Surgere also produced such English variants as surge, resurgent, resurgence, insurgence, insurrection, source, resource, resourceful, and resurrection (often spelled with a capital R).


    During pre-Christian "pagan" times of antiquity, Easter bonfires were lit in commemoration of the coming of spring. During the 5th Century A.D., in what is now currently Scotland or England, there lived a boy who was later to be christened Saint Patrick. He had been captured by malicious pirates and was made a stowaway aboard ship until they reached the shores of Ireland. For seven years he tended to his flocks of sheep. Later, Saint Patrick escaped to France and became a monk there. Yet in 432 A.D., he had a cosmic vision, much like Saint Paul (formerly Saul) had experienced while on the road to Damascus. His inspirational vision led him back to Ireland and with him, he brought the newly founded religion of Christianity. At that time, the Irish were deeply entrenched in the pagan customs of bonfires being burned in honor of their numerous astronomical gods. Saint Patrick had offered them a new "Christian" fire rite, wherein the fires would represent the "Light of the world". On Saturday, Easter Eve of 433 A.D., Saint Patrick displayed burning fires just outside of the churchyards to honor Christ's Light. With time, this new custom of blessing and burning a new fire each year took root, eventually becoming part of Christian Easter Sunday celebrations throughout most of Europe. These fires were to symbolize the light of the sun, to counteract the frigid climatic conditions often encountered in that part of the world in springtime. Even the name Easter has something to do with the sun: the old Norse words (from the sagas still read today by the children of Iceland in public schools) Eostur, Eastar, Ostara, and Ostar all imply a "season of the growing sun" and "season of new birth". Eostre was symbolized as a semi-deity figure who held a corn sheaf in one hand and a basket of eggs in the other.

    Here is a poem exemplifying Easter, with all of its promise of renewal and rebirth, written by Esther Cushman Randall:


Always there is a springtime, always the flowers come;
   Always the bud and blossom, the tender leaf and blade
Bursting the tomb of winter, triumphant and unafraid.
Always a new day of life to greet out of an eastern sky,
Always a changing sunset to chart our courses by,
Always lives undefeated when faith is the star to guide,
Defiling the crimson shadows where Jesus was crucified.
Always a song from sorrow, always the day from night;
Always ideals and longings, a questing for love and right.
Always an Easter morning revealing the glory of God
Shining so pure on the lilies; bursting through friendly sod.


    With all religiosity aside, one perennial symbol of Easter is the Easter egg. The ancient Phoenicians, Persians, Hindus, Egyptians, Chinese, and other sophisticated cultures throughout antiquity held a common worldview or cosmovisión: they believed that the world (with its accompanying numerous gods) was created out of an enormous egg. In one Hindu myth from ancient India, this Egg of the World broke into two separate halves, each representing the underlying illusory duality or maya in all of Creation. A golden half symbolized the sky while a complimentary silver half represented terra firma or earth's soil and seas. The clouds were represented by the thin layer just under this worldwide eggshell. And out of this enormous egg was hatched our Sun, that garden-variety yellow star known to today's modern astronomers, some 93,000,000 miles away from us all. 

    Another somewhat similar creation myth out of ancient Finland recounts the tale of Ukko, the God on high who sent the royal teal, a water bird, into the air ultimately to nest on the knee of the great Water-Mother. Whence from the shattered egg shells the teal had left behind, the firmament, the heavens above, and all of sacred Creation were formed.  This eternal egg has come to symbolize fertility and procreation, or the birth and spawning of new Life itself. Such archetypal creation myths have permeated and endured throughout many cultures since the dawn of humankind, attempting to explain where we all come from. 

    In China from around 600 B.C. comes to us a creation myth of Phan Ku, the Great Creator who incarnated from an immense egg. With the shattered egg shells, He carved out the valleys and mountainous terrain of the present firmament upon which we all stand. After having successfully hung the Sun, Moon, and our distant stars in their proper places in the heavens, Phan Ku died, with all remaining fragments from his body left to complete the rest of the world.

    The Druids of the ancient Celtic world, who resided in the caves and forests of what is now England, Ireland, and France, believed that the eggs of serpents were sacred. In one of their seasonal springtime ceremonies, this Druidic priestly class would pile eggs in the center of a circular kiva (similar to those found among the Anastasi and Zuni tribes in the American Southwest) and, holding hands to form a ring that represented eternal Life, prayed that the eggs would continue to procreate more of their kind. The eggs themselves stood for Life itself. According to one creation myth from the people of the Samoan Islands, it was believed that their god Tangaloa-Langi was hatched out of an egg Himself. The broken pieces of eggshells that remained had scattered over "the waters of the deep", thus having since formed what are the Polynesian Islands in the South Pacific Ocean today. 

    But just where did the Easter egg come from? Historians, archeologists, and diachronic lingüists cannot agree on whether the idea of Easter eggs grew out of the Egg of the World view as was held in some pre-Columbian societies, or out of ancient Egyptian mythology, or from the folklore of the Semites of the Tigris-Euphrates river valley in the Fertile Crescent, or from the Farsi-speaking Iranians, or out of the caves of the rishis or "seers" of ancient India. Due to a lack of written records along these lines, the mysteries of the origin of the Easter egg abound to this day. The first book to mention Easter eggs in written form dates from over 500 years ago. According to many historians, a Christianized North African tribe out of the twelve tribes of Israël (from the Hebraïc houses of Solomon, Isaiah, and David lineages) was the first tribe known to have colored eggs during Eastertide. And throughout the Middle Ages in northern Europe, the season of Lent held such strict adherence to the Holy Faith that abstaining from meat for 40 days and 40 nights was become customary. The Spanish term for Lent is La Cuaresma, from their number cuarenta for "forty".

     But many devout meat eaters had decided to substitute eggs for their carnivorous cravings. With due passage of time, religious customs held sway in the end and those who followed the Good Book had to do without eating eggs altogether. Due in large part to a poverty stricken, pestilence-infested Europe of the Dark Ages with an entire continent bound in the cloisters of medieval thought, in religious superstition and in bubonic plague paranoia, fresh hen, duck, and goose eggs at Eastertime had become a rather highly sought and desired replacement for meat. Kings and noblemen began giving raw eggs to their castle manservants and chambermaidens during Easter's Holy Week. Starving children began begging for their Easter egg hand-outs throughout the narrow, dreary, and rainy cobble stoned streets of pre-Renaissance Europe. This custom has survived today into present times in modern Europe wherein youngsters throughout many parts of England, France, Holland, and Flanders still pass from one house to the next asking for Easter eggs, much like American children pass from door-to-door during Hallowe'en while trick-or-treating. Today's children of the British Isles call it pace-egging and as they romp from one house to the next, many sing or recite the following refrain:

Please, Mrs. Whiteleg
Please to give us an Easter egg,
If you won't give us an Easter egg,
Your hens will all lay addles eggs
And your cocks all lay stones.

    In France, such chansons have mimicked their northern neighbors with:

J'ai ici un petit coq dans mon panier,
Et je vous chanterais si vous voulez
Avec des oeufs rouges et blancs à la coque. Alleluia!

    In Holland, Dutch children decorate their country cottages with wreaths of green, tulips, and pastries made in the shape of chickens, eggs, or stars tied onto them. They then march down their country roads from one house to the next on Palm Sunday, begging for eggs (much like their poorer relations of former medieval times often did) with this cheery ditty on their lips:

Palm Easter, Palm Easter
Hei Koeri.
Soon it will be Easter morning,
Then we shall behold an egg.
One egg, two eggs, yet
The third one shall be the true Easter egg.

    Baskets of eggs soon came to be blessed during church ceremonies on Easter Saturday, Holy Saturday, or el sábado de Gloria, thus becoming the special breakfast for Easter Sunday in Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The rising belief that Easter eggs planted in the ground contained magical properties had begun to spread throughout most of Europe by the late 18th and beginning 19th Centuries in such countries as Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece. Back in "merrie olde" England, by the turn-of the-century, it was firmly believed that an Easter egg buried on Good Friday and kept asunder for 100 years would turn into a diamond!  Soon, the custom of decorating Easter eggs became a serious art form to be pursued by aficionados of the handicraft, especially in such Eastern European countries as (the former) East German Democratic Republic, the Ukraine, and Bulgaria. In Yugoslavia, it was customary to adorn the Easter eggs with an  X and Y to represent "Christ is risen". Such painstakingly handmade eggs were oftentimes blessed in church, especially on Easter Sunday, and were handed out to special relatives and endearing friends of the immediate family. 

    The art of scratching designs onto dyed Easter eggs was brought to us from Germany by means of the Pennsylvania (Deutch-speaking) Dutch. Although Easter was not widely celebrated in the United States until shortly after the Civil War, today Easter egg hunts are a common highlight of many an American Easter Sunday, along with several related activities such as rolling hard-boiled Easter eggs down a slope to see if they reach bottom without breaking. Eggs often tossed into the air to see whose would fly the highest has become another Pasqual pastime. Another fancied disport includes playing with colored eggs, as if they were marbles. 


    So just who is this world-renowned Easter Bunny? And just where did s/he come from? Most scholars and religious historians agree that the Easter Bunny or Easter rabbit came from Germany and consequently crossed the Atlantic Ocean over 19th Century waters, along with the Christmas tree and other festive customs. Oster Haas, or the Easter hare as it is known in present-day Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Lichtenstein, and parts of Luxembourg, was an earthy symbol of fertility from out of the pagan festival fires of Eastre. This goddess Eastre was worshipped originally by the Anglo-Saxons through her vernal, animalistic representation of the rabbit or hare. Through time and the ensuing centuries, somehow, and into modern-day Germany, the ancient custom of burning open fires on Easter Eve (much like Saint Patrick had done over a millennia before) had come to be known as "rabbit fires". These fires burned brightly on surrounding hilltops long into the night, just before Easter dawn, and German and Austrian children were told that the Easter Bunny himself had been heating special eggs in his sizzling kettles of dye, coloring them in order to leave on the porches for the children the following morning. The Easter rabbit has since spread around the globe as far south as the tropical climes of Centroamérica, to become the conejo de Pascua in Panamá, Guatemala, and other Central American nations, thanks in large part to Christianity and its spreading worldwide influence. The rabbit throughout many cultures in history has come to stand for fertility due to its strong tendency to propagate its own kind so successfully at springtime.

    Another predominant symbol of Eastertide is the Easter lamb. This timely symbol takes us, once again, back to the Jewish people and their historical plight as Hebrew slaves in ancient Egypt, back to their first Passover. Before the angel of Death had taken the firstborn throughout the Holy Land, the Hebrew leader Moses (inspired by his omnipresent God of Abraham) ordered that his people make a religious sacrifice: that every Hebrew enslaved family was to smear the blood of a young lamb over the threshold door of their homes. By this very act,  plague and pestilence would not enter their homes and thus would allow the "guardian Angel of God" to know which families should be saved and thus have the pestilence pass over their domiciles. Then a lamb was ceremoniously roasted and eaten along with baked unleavened bread without yeast, garnished in bitter herbs, to be washed down with fine drink.


    Stretching across the hot desert sands of the Middle East lies the heart of the Holy Land, Promised Land of the Jews, sacred haven of the Arabs, and the cradle of Christianity: Jerusalem. This is the home and seat of a new type of religion: monotheism, the belief in one central, omnipresent God. Surrounding this ancient metropolis of monotheism lay the small villages of Sepphoris, a Roman stronghold and birthplace of Jesus' mother Mary (rebuilt in 4 B.C. by Herod of Antipater), Cana with its strong Jewish populace, the timeless Roman township of Tiberius, Nazareth (where Jesus's "lost years" were supposedly spent), and Capernaum, a pastoral fishing hamlet along the Sea of Galilee. Jesus's native tongue was Palestinian Aramaïc of the Semitic Language family. It has been said by biblical scholars, too, that Jesus of Nazareth had spoken Greek as a lingua franca (a mutually understood language) to aid him throughout his travels.

    Now, when the two great monotheisms of Judaism and Christianity (both of which share Jerusalem as their holy city along with Islam) had begun to merge somewhat in Christianity's early stages of development and subsequent dispersion due in large part to the Jewish diáspora, the Hebrews had brought with them their pre-Christian traditions of their ancient Passover festival. And one such ritual they introduced to the newly founded Faith of the Cross was their annual custom of the sacrifice of a lamb (hence our modern English expression of "sacrificial lamb".) Yet, in typical historical fashion, the Christians subsequently absorbed and adopted the lamb sacrifice ritual, then internalized it by making the lamb become a symbol of Jesus the Christ. To the Jewish people, the lamb was a sacrifice to their invisible, portable God of Abraham. To the Christians, the meekness and gentility of the lamb came to represent the all-loving characteristics of their savior in Jesus and perpetual manifestation of true Christ-consciousness and unconditional forgiveness.

    For Christians all over our globe, forty days before Easter Sunday (not counting the Sundays in between) begins their religious season called Lent, meaning literally the "lengthening days" of sunlight as we approach the Northern Hemisphere's summer solstice on June 20-21st. The day before the first day of Lent, (from whence our term length originated) called Mardi Gras ("fatty or greasy Tuesday" in French) in which people indulge themselves in savory and sensorial delights to their utmost before having to soon go without, precedes Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the fasting season. Devout believers generally abstain from meat products for 40 days and 40 nights, recalling historically Jesus' forty days and forty nights spent in fasting and prayer in the Divine Presence on the desert sands just northwest of Jericho. There, on Quarantal or "the Mount of Temptation" (like the number forty in French), Jesus of Nazareth fasted and meditated upon an oppressive outer world in which he found Himself and humankind subsequently fatefully cast.


    The colors most often associated with Easter are yellow, purple, white, green, and sometimes gold. As a collage they may represent the changing colors in nature during springtime along with  its accompanying multitudinous array of flowers. Yellow stands for the sun and its beautifully bright radiance of dawn. This is also the color of the month of April, the month when Easter and post-equinox full moons most often occur. Purple, though often exemplifying royalty in many cultures, was imported most belatedly into the Easter picture vía the Christian circuit. In the language of religious symbols, this color signifies mourning and is strongly associated with the sorrow felt over Christ's physical death on the Cross during the Lenten season, especially within the Catholic sect. White represents the pure Divine Light of God, exemplifying purity or cleanliness of heart, clarity in God-consciousness, and ecstatic blissful joy. Green stands for Nature's perpetual renewal of itself, especially during springtime. Gold is associated with abundance, both materially and spiritually, along with the golden radiance of dawn or daybreak.

    Flowers that are traditionally associated with Easter have become the Easter lily, tulips, and daffodils. Lilies and other flowers that grow out from bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, have become symbols of the Resurrection for many Christians throughout the world. The narcissus of early spring, originally hailing from the Swiss Alps region, has long been considered an Easter flower  locally for many centuries. And well before Christian times, this flower was an integral part of Greek mythology too.

    These colorful flowers all symbolize everything that Easter stands for today: renewal of life and the spirit at daylight, new seeds springing forth to new Life, and recovery from harsh northern winters. For, apart from any religious connections and affiliated associations, Easter is indeed a festival of hope and renewal for us all, of rebirth from static death, of elevation in our private conscious awareness from out of darkness, and especially of the awakening of our soul into the Light of heaven's promise, of humankind's joy in being alive.

                When full moon is passed
                Over equinox of vernal green;
                Then Eastertide is come at last
                In crystal purity on new morning’s sheen.


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