Why Do We Celebrate Easter with Eggs and Rabbits?
Every year some time shortly after Valentine's Day, the big box stores and supermarkets start to fill up with all manner of eggs, rabbits and chicks. You'll find candies, stuffed animals and plastic eggs everywhere. If you're looking for egg-dyeing kits, these are also available some time mid-February, even in years when Easter falls in April.
Just as most children instantly think of Santa Claus when they hear the word "Christmas," they think of the Easter Bunny when they hear the word "Easter.
While this very obvious commercialization of holidays is particularly common in the United States, it may also be distressing to Christian parents who are attempting to teach their children about Jesus and the reasons for His death and resurrection. Some Christian parents even attempt to explain the ways that the rabbits and the eggs relate to the resurrection and the sacrifice of their Savior.
To answer the question in the title of this article, however, coloring Easter eggs has roots both in paganism and Christianity, and Easter Bunnies have pagan origins.
The Symbolism of the Easter Egg
Coloring Easter Eggs is a popular Easter activity for children of all ages. Where did this tradition of dyeing eggs certain colors begin, and where? Sources disagree on where the practice of coloring eggs started, but most historians point to the area that is now known as the Middle East, particularly in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
While there appears to be no clear common consensus on where the Easter egg originated, what we do know is that the practice of dyeing eggs appears to have roots in both Christianity and in paganism. Before you criticize a Christian family for coloring eggs for Easter, consider the following.
Christian Symbolism of the Easter Egg
Some believe that the tradition of coloring eggs for Easter began in Christian Mesopotamia during the early Christian days. Followers of this new religion are believed to have colored eggs red as a representation of the blood of their Savior, Jesus. (Boettcher, Kaitlyn 2013)
This is probably the oldest origin of the Easter Egg, going back to the early Christian practices. While you will find many articles online that suggest that the Easter egg dates back further than that to paganism before Christ, these articles may be somewhat misleading on the subject of this symbolism.
More recent tradition suggests that the Easter Egg is a representation of the empty tomb of Jesus on the morning of Easter Sunday following his crucifixion. This is a more likely explanation for the blown eggs which have had their insides removed before painting.
It should be noted, however, that the egg is also part of pagan symbolism going back to before the birth of Jesus.
Do you believe that Easter has roots in paganism or that the pagan and Christian Easters are independent of one another?
The Myth of the Pagan Origins of Easter
By this point, most people know that many of the origins of the Christian holidays celebrated by believers are rooted in pagan tradition. Some evangelicals and fundamentalists go overboard in their assessment of these traditions (many of which are not, in fact, pagan in origin) and you will also encounter some misinformed pagans who like to claim that Christianity stole their practices.
Easter eggs are one of the more obvious pagan practices which have become enveloped into Christianity. The question is whether or not pagans or Christians lay claim to the egg first. This is a touchy subject, and opinions differ on the origins of a holiday which is celebrated by members of both religions. The pagan Easter falls at the end of March, while the Christian Easter may be any time in March or April, depending on the moon cycles and positions (because of the Hebrew Passover).
Perhaps surprisingly, there are conflicting opinions on who began to celebrate Easter first. While it cannot be argued that the name "Easter" appears to come from the name of a Teutonic goddess (Eostre), the celebration of this holiday is much more recent -- perhaps as recent as the fifteenth century, C.E.
The symbolism of the egg may well date to before the birth of Christ, but both religions lay a legitimate claim to the Spring feast.
The Pagan Symbolism of the Egg
In most species alive on earth, life begins with a "seed." In the animal kingdom, we refer to "seeds" as "eggs." Because life comes from an egg (or a seed), the egg has come to symbolize fertility, and has done for millennia.
For this reason, many modern pagans use eggs in their fertility rituals, and the egg (particularly the colored Easter eggs) have come to be associated with pagan rites. A wiccan woman, for example, may place an egg beneath her bed if she wishes to become pregnant.
The association with eggs and fertility is likely as old as time itself, and for this reason it can be said that one may argue that the practices we associate with Easter has pagan roots. What one cannot argue, however, is that Easter has a significance to Christians as the day when the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated.
Easter Symbolism of Eggs and Bunnies
Christian - Painted Red for Blood of Jesus
Pagan - Sign of Fertility
Christian - Emptied represent the Tomb of Christ
Pagan - "Breed like Rabbits"
Pagan - Symbol of Fertility
Modern - Lay eggs for children to find.
Okay, so What about the Bunny?
If eggs are a sign of fertility, then so are rabbits. have you ever heard the expression "breed like rabbits?" Bunnies are known for their fertility and their ability to reproduce in large litters which can easily overwhelm the population of an area where they live. For this reason, rabbits are associated with fertility, and fertility is celebrated in the spring.
Legend says that the Easter bunny lays eggs for children to find on Easter, and this is why we have Easter Egg Hunts. The bunny lays the eggs in the grass and in hidden places and children must find these to fill their baskets with goodies and treats for the Easter celebration.
Symbols of Spring and Rebirth
The egg and the rabbit are also symbols of Spring and of rebirth, signifying a new beginning. For Christians, this new beginning is representative of rebirth in Jesus Christ. Pagans, on the other hand, view this as the turning of the wheel of the year, when winter turns to Spring and everything begins fresh with fertility and new life.
Both points are equally valid, and there is no reason why Christians shouldn't paint eggs to celebrate Easter as a part of their religious practice. Different families may choose different traditions, but the Easter Egg has its place in both religious practices.
As this article discusses, in brief, issues pertaining to religion, it should be noted that the author reserves the right to delete comments which become contentious for members of other religious groups. Any comments which are belligerent will be unpublished and then deleted in order to spare this page becoming a place for argument and discontent from readers. Be respectful in your comments and comment on the content of the article and you should do just fine!
© 2014 Becki Rizzuti