Tomorrow will mark my 37th Easter. My daughter will hunt for her basket and my mom will undoubtedly bust my chops about not going to church. My sister will tell me I’m headed to hell while we all enjoy our Reese’s peanut butter eggs. It’s an odd mix for sure – the religious implication and the secular bunny and painted eggs. I never really gave it much thought until an exchange student I’d met a couple years ago asked me about it. I felt like an idiot the same way I do when people ask me how great it is to live in Cleveland and have unfettered access to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I tell them I’ve been there once. The question resonated with me and highlighted just how little I know about every day things like the Easter Bunny.
It turns out that there’s been a lot written on the subject of the secular Easter holiday. While the facts differ slightly from source to source, Easter has been celebrated by ancient cultures around the world for centuries. The holiday has been largely focused around the coming of spring, a rebirth, and a transformation from death or slumber in winter to life and rebirth in spring. The origin of the Easter bunny and the painted eggs looks to have originated in Germany. The name Easter originates from Ostera or Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. In the United States, early Americans didn’t observe the secular holiday of Easter. It was viewed as a pagan holiday (as was Christmas.) If it wasn’t in the Bible, the puritans didn’t acknowledge it. German immigrants to the U.S. were purported to have observed the spring celebration, and had pictures of the Goddess Ostera carrying a basket with hares and colorful eggs. The hare has long been regarded as a prolific reproducer in nature. It’s generally believed that the hare represents fertility and the eggs new life. After the Civil War, Easter as a secular holiday took off in the U.S. Some argue that the Government embraced it to offer a reason to celebrate family and youth after having lost so many loved ones in the war. The bunny and the eggs stuck around and the pagan goddess Ostera didn’t. The Federal government didn’t declare Easter a national holiday as it falls on Sunday, which is a non-working day. A dozen states observe Good Friday as a state holiday.
Easter as a religious holiday marks one of the most important days in the Christian faith. Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a six-week period of repentance and penance. Most give up a luxury during this time as a form of penitence. The week prior to Easter Sunday is a holy week. Good Friday commemorates the day Jesus was crucified and Easter Sunday celebrates his resurrection. For a believer, it represents his sacrifice so that we might all have eternal life.
I’m like most Irish Catholic boys. I grew up with Easter primarily revolving around the religious aspect and the bunny, basket, and candy was a nice little bonus. I didn’t much care why a giant rabbit wanted to sneak around giving kids baskets of goodies as long as I got mine. I’d been exposed to both the secular and religious sides of Easter, so I’d like to think that my opinion is informed. I don’t believe that embracing the secular is tantamount to worshiping a pagan God as early Christians (and I’m sure many still today) view the Easter Bunny. I also respect the day for what it represents in a religious sense. I’ll raise my daughter the same way and continue to respect those of varied religious beliefs. In my opinion, Easter is a joyful day worth celebrating regardless of faith or secularity. It represents new life, resurrection, the rebirth of what had been dead (in nature and in religion,) and the coming of longer days filled with sunshine, and abundance. It gives me yet another reason to look at what I have, offer gratitude, and look toward a more enriching tomorrow.
I wish you all a very Happy Easter and whether you’re religious or will be eating your eggs, enjoy the company you’ll be keeping, kick up your heels, and celebrate life.
PS – I HATE eggs.