When the Christian monks in the 300s A.D. period came to England and points north, they encountered a goddess named “Eastre” that the Saxons and northern Germanic tribes worshiped.
She was the goddess of fertility, and you guessed it … her symbol was the bunny.
The chicken and the rabbit were considered the most fertile of domestic animals and so the fuzzy fellow and the little yellow chicken were venerated to thank Eastre.
The monk missionaries found that the Christ’s resurrection almost coincided with the celebration of Eastra, and to not upset the old worship standards of the pagans, they found it easier to incorporate the celebration into the same period.
The egg was also considered the emblem of new life by the ancient tribes so the rabbit, chicken, and egg all fit together nicely.
Christian Easter slowly replaced the worship of Eastre and the various Christianized northern countries adapted the two festivities along with Peter Cottontail. By the 1500s, the events meshed together. While Easter recognized the resurrection of Christ, the ancient ritual of glorifying the rabbit found a secure place within the spring celebration.
The introduction of the Eastre rabbit was given to us in America by the German settlers.
Parents would pass on the tradition of making sure a special place was made for when the magic fur ball would arrive. Like Christmas with putting out stockings and gifts for St. Nick at the hearth, the children would make nests in the house garden normally using hats for a comfy bunny abode. (The Easter bonnet comes into play at this point.)
So with nests in place on Easter morning, they would run to the hidden place where the nests were prepared and find “goodies along with jelly bean necklaces delivered by “hippity-hoppity” himself.
Coupled with decorated eggs scattered and hidden about the area, this of course gave rise to the Easter basket for collecting the treasure. To make the finding of eggs more enjoyable, the more affluent class would wrap them in gold foil, while the lower classes would get various leaves and berries, boil them for different colors and place the eggs in pots to absorb the various tints.
The Easter hare culture remained in the Germanic culture and wasn’t well celebrated even up to the Civil War. After the conflict, the merriment began to spread to the other American cultures.
Today it is estimated that between 90 and 100 million chocolate bunnies are produced for the big day, and the largest egg made to date was with a combination of marshmallow and chocolate. The gargantuan egg was 25 feet high, supported by a steel frame and weighed in at 8,968 pounds according the Guinness World Record Book.
The most expensive eggs are the famous Faberge eggs that the Romanov Czars had produced in gold and precious jewels. Today they are valued in the millions and mostly found in museums.
Easter brings the close of Lent when all is renewed and life starts anew, however after the bunny bandits nub down the lettuce in our garden, there isn’t too much gaiety … and on top of that, they never leave any eggs.
Fair winds to ye matey.
Chick Huettel is a long-time Walton County resident, writer and artist. He is a member of a number of local organizations including the Emerald Coast Archeological Society.