A reader writes:
Dear Sir: Why do rabbits and eggs represent Easter, which also celebrates the resurrection of Christ?
Dear Peter: Easter primarily represents the advent of springtime, just as Christ’s resurrection does. The Old-English word Eastre derives from an Anglo-Saxon Pagan goddess named Eostre, about whom very little is known. What we do know about her comes to us from the Benedictine monk Bede (672-735 A.D.), also sometimes referred to as the Father of English History.
In Bede’s On the Reckoning of Time, he mentions a goddess named Eostre, and he tells us that the Anglo-Saxons had at one time worshiped this goddess during the spring equinox.
Apart from Bede, no other reference to Eostre exists. Indeed, even in Bede’s time, she had long since faded away. The fact, however, that Eostre was worshiped during the spring equinox does suggest something significant.
Quoting the genius priest-poet Gerard Hopkins:
What is spring?
Growth in everything.
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Throstle above her nested
Cluster of bugle-blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod and sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathizing
With that world of good,
As you of all people would know, Peter, rabbits and hares are notorious breeders, and no doubt you’re familiar with the saying “to fuck like bunnies.” This sedate and venerable expression comes about because lagomorphs mature sexually at very young ages. They are also capable of superfetation, which means they can conceive a second time while still pregnant, and thus they are able to give birth to two litters. This actually happens many times throughout the year, although spring seems to make these little girls and guys particularly crazy. The females are extraordinarily fertile, and that is eggsactly why they symbolize springtime.
Rabbits and hares represent breeding and birth. Eggs also have obvious fertility-birth-and-blood connotations, and for this reason, they have represented fertility and spring since the dawn of humankind.
Do rabbits produce eggs? No, they do not. The good lady Eostre did, however, once putatively save a freezing bird at the end of winter, by turning this bird into a hare, which hare because it had once been a bird could then lay eggs, whereas I can only suck them, as you can see.
Dying Easter eggs and the source of this eggsellent tradition is a mystery, though the Ancient Greeks did color eggs green (to symbolize new grass) and red (to symbolize blood).
Birth. Blood. Death. Winter. Resurrection. Rebirth. Spring. Life.
“There is nothing greater than life,” said Voltaire.
That is what Easter is about.
The early Christians understood this. So they kept many of the Pagan symbols of spring; they absorbed them, as it were, in part, perhaps, because these symbols are so primal and so beautiful.
It is, after all, a beautiful world we live in.
Happy Easter, Peter.