Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the ressurection of Jesus. It is a time of year when we color the eggs and stores are full of bunny decorations. Many a man and kid alike has wondered what does Jesus have to do with eggs and bunnies. And since we are at it – why is it called “Easter”? That doesn’t sound anything like Jesus or ressurection. It doesn’t even rhyme. Well, let’s start from the beginning…
First Christians celebrated Easter on the day of Jewish holiday Passover. In the year 325 A.D. emperor Constantine I convened the council in Nicaea (today İznik in Turkey) where early Christian dignitaries decided that from then on the Easter will be celebrated on first Sunday after the full moon in spring (i.e. after spring solstice). After this, Constantine sent a letter to all Church fathers who were not present at council explaining that this decision was neccessary because “… it is our duty not to have anything in common with the murderers of our Lord”. You can read that charming letter in more detail over here. At that time there was no written mention of eggs or bunnies being in any way related to Easter.
It was only in 1682 (some sources say 1678) that Professor Georg Franck von Frankenau mentioned eggs and rabbit in relation to Easter in his book “De ovis paschalibus” (About Easter eggs).
In 18th century German immigrants brought the custom of easter egg hunt into USA and in 19th century Jakob Grimm (yup, one of the Grimm brothers, the fairy-tale writers) wrote about the old lore about goddess Ostara that was only carried by word of mouth until his time and was almost forgotten.
Goddess Eostre – where Easter imagery came from
Artwork by Thalia Took
European pre-Christian religions celebrated fertility goddess Eostre (Ostara in continental Europe). Thus the name Easter in English and Ostern in Germany. An old Teutonic myth says that one Winter day goddess Eostre was passing through a forest and found a bird dying in snow from hunger and cold. Goddess turned the bird into a hare because they have a warm fur and can find food more easily than any bird. And so our bunny survived the winter and when the spring came the animal started laying eggs because it was once a bird. Rabbit then decorated every egg leaving it to Eostre as a sign of gratitude. Hence the Easter egg hunt – “the bunny left the eggs the night before” (wink, wink).
Eostre / Ostara was celebrated by pre-Christian religions on the first day of spring (vernal equinox) because that is when the days start getting longer than nights and the nature “wakes up”. Since Christian celebration of Easter was roughly coinciding with celebration of Eostre – the customs started mixing.
This is certainly the most popular explanation of the connection between Easter,Jesus, bunny and eggs. There are other theories but they lack full details (and cuteness). For example, one such explanation says that during Byzantine Empire the hare was (for unclear reasons) used as a symbol of Jesus Christ. Fine, factual, but uncute (minus 1 point) and doesn’t explain the eggs (minus 10 points) and names “Easter” and “Ostern” (minus 50 points). This is why Eostre is widely quoted as the most likely candidate for the origins of Easter customs and imagery.
More trivia on this subject here: