Why Do We…At Easter?

Just about every people in every part of world has had a spring festival. Throughout its history Christianity has borrowed and absorbed these into its celebration of Easter, Christianity’s greatest feast.

The story of the Resurrection itself has echoes of the Mesopotamian story of Tammuz and Inanna and in the Egyptian story of Osiris and Isis.

Giving decorated eggs goes back to the very earliest days of Christianity. Eggs dyed red were given at Easter to symbolize Jesus, the tomb, and his resurrection.

Most European countries use some form related to Greek pascha, cognate with Aramaic pascha and Hebrew pesach, for Easter. The earliest attestation of “Easter” of which I am aware is from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, c. 731 AD. In it he says that “Easter” is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word for the month of April. It has been said that in turn was derived from the name of a Saxon goddess. We’ll have to take his word for it.

The earliest attestations of the Easter Bunny, the Easter analogue of Santa Claus, is from Germany in the 16th century. In the early 19th century Jacob Grimm claimed that the rabbit was a symbol of the Saxon goddess Oestara, something other scholars have repeated. I’ll take his word for it.

In Australia, where imported rabbits are pests, a native Australian, the Easter Bilby, has taken over some of the Easter Bunny’s duties.

Every Easter I give my wife the best chocolate bunny I can find because a) she likes chocolate; b) a chocolate bunny at Easter is a family custom of hers going back generations; c) I love my wife; and d) I know what’s good for me.

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