How in the world did the rabbit become associated with the egg at Easter? Rabbits donít lay eggs and are certainly not hatched Ö so what gives?
The egg came first.
The egg history comes from extremely early Christian written archives. The egg was the miracle. Unlike canal birth from the female animal which was iffy in survival including humans (stillbirths) in the Dark Ages, the hatching of life was usually always successful when the bird or reptile cracked its way free. Of course all bets were off if predators were close, but the idea of seeing life coming from a round sphere was a pronounced miracle of God. So the spring hatching of goslings, chickens, and ducks was a promise of a good year for the peasant. They could eat for another season and coupled with Christís coming from an entombed cave and cracking through the stone enclosure matched up perfectly with the new life busting through the egg shell.
And the rabbit?
Well, it was another product of spring and success for the farmer. The rabbit was one of the most productive meat breeders in the barnyard. And in the spring and summer the female could have many more litters than any other animal. A female hare could even become pregnant again while getting ready give birth to a litter.
What better than seeing the eggs coming with new life over and over coupled with bunnies coming at the blink of an eye? It was a celebration of abundant life and felt perfectly in line with spring and Easter. It was life over death, just as Christ gave the individual hope of cracking open the gates to eternity when one finally ended his or hers earthly visit.
It was actually the German culture that fostered the bunny concept. The Lutheran religion in 1682 basically started the tradition. The bunny was actually brought into church services at times and is found depicted in stone relief on churches all over Europe. The cotton tail became like a spring Santa and children would find treats about the house or in the garden on Easter morning.
And the Easter bonnet?
Leave it to the kiddies. Why have to look all over for goodies and little eggs when one could make a cuddly bed for the present bearing hare? So came the tradition of making nests for him and even using oneís hat stuffed with nice green munching grass to lure the magic rabbit to spend the night and leave a present in return. Even better, female bunnies liked colorful ribbons, so bows made a basket nest a tempting decoratorís showcase.
The custom sailed over with our colonial German settlers and was passed on to all religions in the colonies.
Lastly, why the colored eggs? The egg, the giver of life, could be easily embellished in gold and silver plus jewel encrusted for the European nobility. The rich could offer their wives, secret courtly lovers, and the royal children glittering and sparkling ovals when found on Easter morning. But not to be out-done, the lower classes would hard boil them and dip in dyes or paint on them for their children to discover. Check out the Imperial Faberge Eggs for ultimate splendor on the Internet and youíll understand.
The Easter bunny and egg were founded on religious principles. Ah, but the commercial enterprising human mind crossed the line Ö and behold came the chocolate bunny!
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.