What is Easter?...and Where Does the Easter Bunny Fit in?

What is Easter?
...and where does the Easter bunny fit in?
by Jennifer LB Leese

Did you know that the first Easter baskets were made to look like bird's nests? Or, that the date of Easter depends on the phases of the moon?
Easter for many is a religious celebration. The story of Christ's death and resurrection are told with minor modifications. The actual events are said to have occurred nearly 2,000 years ago during the eight-day period now observed as Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
"For Christians, Easter is the most significant event as it is a period of profound sorrow, through the death of Christ on the cross (Good Friday), but is also of great spiritual rapture through the miracle of the resurrection (Easter Sunday)."
"Easter isn't just the celebration of spring and purchasing toys and candy for your kids, it is about the resurrection of life-it was God's promise," said Sharon from Myersville. "Easter and God's promise are the triumph of life through death."
Throughout the years, many people have shared similar traditions. Festivals, and the stories and tales that explain the Easter celebration origin, were common in ancient religions. A Greek legend tells of the return of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the earth, from the underworld to the light of day. Ancient Greeks believe that her return symbolized the resurrection of life in the spring after the misery of winter. Research tells us that to this day, Wiccans and other neopagans hold festivals in celebration of the arrival of spring.
It also tells us that scholars emphasized the original relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach, which celebrates the freeing of the Jews from bondage in Egypt. The term paschal, meaning "of Easter," comes from the name of the Jewish festival, as are the names of Easter in some European languages. In Greek, Easter is called Pascha; in French, Piques; in Spanish, Pascua; and in Italian, Pasqua.
Easter falls on various dates from year to year, however, Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox (for the western church). The vernal equinox signals the beginning of spring (in the Northern Hemisphere). The Easter season starts right after Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, beginning with Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the 46-day long Lent Festival. The final Sunday of Lent is Palm Sunday, followed four days later by Maundy Thursday, then Good Friday, and finally Easter Sunday.
Janet Kifer from Cumberland said, "Easter is a time of self-renewal with my beliefs in Christianity - from the sunrise service to having get-togethers with my family."
Traditionally originated long ago, Easter is largely a religious celebration. However, many traditions of the season are less religious as they have more to do with the beginning of spring. Jane's Flower Pot in Halfway said that lilies and tulips are the biggest sellers during the Easter season. "We well a lot of plants and Easter arrangements," said Evelyn Stevens, co-owner. "Bulb gardens are popular at this time too," said Vickie Stang, co-owner. "Bulb gardens are a mixture of bulbs in a basket that are ready to bloom."
A favorite Easter pastime is painting eggs in bright colors, wearing new Easter clothes on Easter Sunday, fixing large family dinners, and having the time-honored Easter egg hunts and Easter rabbits. Eggs were initially painted with bright colors with the intention of representing the sunlight of spring, and were used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts.
But when does and how does the Easter Bunny fit into this Christian-related event?
The Easter bunny originated in pre-Christian fertility teachings. Because the hare and the rabbit are one of the most fertile animals known today, they serve as symbols of the new life during the spring season.
The bunny as an Easter symbol seems to derive from Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 1500s. Ironically, the first edible Easter bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800s, made of pastry and sugar.
So, why the use eggs?
German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s, introduced the Easter bunny to American folklore. The arrival of the "Oschter Haws" was considered "childhood's greatest pleasure. Children believed that if they were good the "Oschter Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs. Children behaved and as the time grew closer, they'd build nests in their homes, barns, or gardens, using caps and bonnets. The use of Easter baskets would come later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread through out the country.
The Easter egg was an important symbol in the mythologies of many early civilizations, including those of India and Egypt. It was believed that the universe developed from a great egg and that the halves of its shell corresponded to Heaven and earth. The egg was also connected with the springtime fertility ceremonies of many pre-Christian and Indo-European peoples, both the Egyptians and the Persians practiced coloring eggs in the spring. Christians thought of the egg as a symbol of resurrection, representing the rise of Christ from his tomb to everlasting life.
Over the centuries the symbolic associations of the egg have been more or less forgotten, and modern Easter eggs are valued primarily for their colorful appearance. "Egg sales triple," said an associate at a local supermarket. "We can hardly keep them on the shelves."
Today, children are often told that the Easter bunny brings Easter eggs, candy, and sometimes toys. The bunny has become as traditional at Easter time as the Easter egg and Easter baskets.
Another popular Easter custom in the United States is wearing new clothes on Easter Sunday. The custom originated within the church hundreds of years ago, when those who were baptized on Holy Saturday were given new white robes to wear.
Washington County has many specialty shops, flower shops, and unique clothing stores where shoppers can find just about anything for any occasion. Check out Hub City General in Hagerstown, Farmer's Market in Hagerstown, and The Briar Patch in Williamsport for all your Easter gift-giving needs.