The Animals of Easter
The symbolism of Easter is all about birth and re-birth, linked with the season of spring. The animals associated with this season include the the baby animals that emerge in the Northern hemisphere spring, ancient images, European myths, and Christian parables. Even modern conservation programs are adapting these celebrations to their own needs.
The primary animal symbol of Easter is the rabbit and specifically the Easter bunny. Originally the Easter rabbit was said to come and actually lay eggs in nests prepare by children, before the more modern imagery where he distributes candy treats from a basket. This myth originates from Germany and is known from around the 16th century but its specific origins are not known.
In Australia, where rabbits are an invasive and destructive animal, there is a movement to replace the Easter rabbit with the Easter bilby. The bilby is a native marsupial that has trouble competing with the introduced rabbit. Sales of chocolate bilbies are used to raise money for bilby conservation efforts.
Easter is also a time when people might buy ill-considered pets, animals like rabbits that they do not really want to invest the time and money in for the rest of their lifetime. Rabbits are good pets but long lived and potentially expensive, while chicks are relatively difficult to raise and not well suited to most households--especially if you end up with a rooster!
The egg is the underlying symbol that links many Easter animals. The reason being that the egg is a powerful symbol of life, whether you see this as relating to the fertile season of spring and the pagan Goddess Eostre, or the Christian Resurrection story. And while the idea of a rabbit laying eggs might seem a bit tenuous now, the idea of chicks coming out of them is only natural.
Lambs are also born in the spring but their special significance at Easter probably leans on the symbolism of Jesus as the "lamb of God". Lambs were a common sacrifice animal (as mentioned in the Old Testament) and so there is a natural parallel to be drawn to the sacrifice of Jesus giving His life on the Cross. For a combination of these reasons lamb is a common meal at Easter and cakes are made in the shape of a lamb. However in many regions the more traditional feast animal is the goat.
In countries where the slaughter of lambs for Easter is common there are interesting side effects like in Italy where it is followed by a peak in human cases of Brucellosis which is a disease people contract from contact with livestock.
- Gipson, T. A. (1999, April). Demand for goat meat: implications for the future of the industry. In Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Goat Field Day, held April (Vol. 24, No. 1999, pp. 23-30).
- Jablonskaya, O. V., & Aryamnova, M. A. (2011). INFLUENCE OTHER COUNTRIES ON CULTURE OF HOLIDAYS IN GREAT BRITAIN.
- Smith, N. (2006). Thank your mother for the rabbits: bilbies, bunnies and redemptive ecology. Australian Zoologist, 33(3), 369-378.