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Opinion

History, myth of Easter Bunny intertwined with religion, folklore

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March 21, 2013

With nearly two months of the semester under our belt, many of us are looking forward to a break. Spring break is almost here, and this time, the week-long break wraps up with a popular spring holiday: Easter.

Several different customs, traditions, and symbols are often associated with Easter every year, and one of the more prominent secular figures of the Christian holiday for children is the Easter Bunny.

While it is widely known that the Easter Bunny, like Santa Claus, bears gifts with candy, the reason for this figure is perhaps a mystery to many of us. Where exactly did it come from? With a figure that has been around for years and will continue to be around for years to come, it is important to know its significance on the holiday.

Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny sometimes brings toys and other gifts to children’s homes the night before the holiday. There have been numerous depictions of this holiday figure. Sometimes it is depicted as a simple rabbit, and other times it is depicted as a walking, talking, clothes bearing character.

Whether it is a character with human-like characteristics or not, children all around the world know that the Easter Bunny brings eggs and baskets of gifts. The hare has been a symbol in the Christian church for centuries, though the actual Easter Bunny was introduced starting in 1682.

The hare had been widely popular in Medieval Church art. In ancient times, several philosophers widely believed that this hare was a hermaphrodite. This means that the hare could reproduce without the loss of virginity, therefore many philosophers and Christians alike associated the hare with the Virgin Mary.

Since this new belief, the hare began to occasionally appear in illuminated manuscripts and Northern European paintings of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child.

Another place that the hare was associated with was the Holy Trinity. This had the “three hares motif,” which represented “one in three and three in one.” Common symbols representing this phrase are the triangle or three interlocking shapes such as rings. This motif appears often in England, usually in a very prominent location in the church, such as the central rib of the chancel roof or on a central rib of the nave. It is because of this that the symbol is known to be significant to the church instead of signature marks of masons or carpenters.

In ancient history, the rabbit or hare, not unlike the egg, were prominent symbols of fertility. Birds lay eggs in the early spring, which is also when newly born litters of rabbits or hares appear. This coincides with the spring equinox which occurs in March, thus they became rising symbols of fertility of the earth around this time of the year. Rabbits and hares are prolific breeders, which would explain how they became symbols of fertility and entered the realm of Easter folklore.

Aside from its rich history, the Easter Bunny brings about many memories of the past for many of us. My favorite memory was in fact the time when I realized that the Easter Bunny was, but a figment of my imagination. My mom hides Easter baskets every year. One year, so as not to make it completely obvious, the baskets went behind the television. They were luckily a closely guarded secret, judging by the heap of pillows they were surrounded by.

It did, however, occur to me that the Easter Bunny would not think of anything this innovative. Therefore, this deed had been done by my mother, the same woman to inform me that the Easter Bunny comes through the wall, similar to the platform in Harry Potter. At least she knows how to hide them better this time around.

This year, make the most out of this holiday. Hide baskets, eat chocolate, search for eggs. There are many traditions to keep each year to keep the Easter Bunny tradition alive, even if that involves dozens of pillows.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.