Who is the Easter Bunny?


 

the Easter Bunny



 

I awoke one Easter morn
To a golden dawn aglow;
And a rabbit with a rainbow basket
Through my garden did quietly go.

With colorful eggs asunder
Pray thee, I shall not blunder;
With daffodil and lily in hand
Onto my porch he did softly land.

Imagination? for surely it must be
But how could this hare possibly foresee?
Whence his basket I had grasped
And with chocolate within
An Eternal grin companioned
A heart full of glee.
(from On Easter's Morrow, Author Unknown)



 

Our present-day term Easter arises out of our word east. Since the East is the geographical point where the sun rises at daybreak, Easter's sunrise services are connected to this concept. The modern term orient (as opposed to occident), originally meaning "rising" in Latin, has a parallel origin. Easter is always celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. Therefore, Easter Sunday can only fall between the dates of March 22nd through April 25th. The Indo-European root prefix aus- is the lingüistic source of many such terms as east and dawn. The Latin aurora and the Greek aúos contained both connotations. Its Germanic descendant austo- produced the German ost, the Dutch oosten, the Swedish öster, and the English east, with this latter term having been borrowed from the modern French est.

The ancient Germanic peoples of prehistory had a goddess named Austron, originally the Goddess of Dawn. They held a festival in her honor during the months of spring, in accordance with the warmer weather. The ancient Saxons had celebrated the return of spring with uproarious festival fires commemorating their goddess of offspring. From the Old Saxon Austron, and eventually evolving into Olde English, her name became Èastre, which is assumed by etymologists to be the true source of our modern holiday's name of Easter. Modern German's Ostern has sprung from this same source.

In modern Spanish, the term Pascua means Easter, yet Felices Pascuas means "Happy Holidays". From an ancient Hebrew word for Passover Pesach has come the term for Easter in many languages: the Greek Pascha, the Norwegian Paaske, the French Pâques, and the Spanish Pascua. The modern English equivalent of Passover in today's Spanish is rendered Pascua de los hebreos, literally "Easter of the Hebrews". From the Old Testament of the Bible, the Book of Exodus tells us the story of how the Hebrew slaves, who were being held in bondage by Rameses II of Egypt circa 1150 B.C., took flight from the Land of the Pharaohs. Pharaoh decreed that the angel of Death was to destroy the firstborn of Israel, yet the cherub or "guardian Angel of God", passed over the households of the Hebrews thus allowing them to survive Rameses's wickedness and ultimately permitting them escape through the Red Sea and into the land of freedom in Jordan.

For Christians, Easter has taken on the concept of Resurrection, from both a physical standpoint (as in Spring's renewal or rebirth) and a spiritual perspective (illuminating the Holy Spirit and Christ-consciousness within the individual). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, or La Semana Santa in Spanish. The fifth day of Holy Week is Holy Thursday, Green Thursday, Pure Thursday, Clean Thursday (from times of antiquity when bathing was a luxury), or Maundy Thursday, with this term maundy coming from the Roman's Vulgar Latin word meaning "commandment". This, in turn, is followed by Good Friday, the Spanish equivalent being el Viernes Santo when Christ met his physical death on the cross at the hands of the Romans and resurrected on Easter Sunday.

The term resurrection comes to us from the Latin verb surgere, meaning "to lead up from below" or "to rise". This originated as a compound verb formed from the prefix sub- , or "up from below", and regere meaning "to rule or lead". These two are the lingüistic source of the modern English terms regiment, regimentation, regency, and region. English acquired these words by means of the Old Spanish surgir (to come forth) and the Old French sourgir of the same connotation. Surgere also produced such English variants as surge, resurgent, resurgence, insurgence, insurrection, source, resource, resourceful, and resurrection (often with a capital "r").

During pre-Christian "pagan" times of antiquity, Easter bonfires were lit in commemoration of the coming of spring. During the 5th Century A.D., in what is now currently Scotland or England, there lived a boy who was later to be christened Saint Patrick, who had been captured by malicious pirates and was made a stowaway aboard ship until they reached the shores of Ireland. For seven years he tended to his flocks of sheep. Later, Saint Patrick escaped to France and became a monk there. Yet in 432 A.D., he had a cosmic vision, much like Saint Paul (formerly Saul) had experienced while on the road to Damascus. His cosmic vision led him back to Ireland, and with him, he brought the newly founded religion of Christianity. At that time, the Irish were deeply entrenched in the pagan customs of bonfires burned in honor of their numerous astronomical gods. Saint Patrick had offered them a new "Christian" fire rite, wherein the fires would represent the "Light of the world". On Saturday, Easter Eve of 433 A.D., Saint Patrick displayed burning fires just outside of the churchyards to honor Christ's Light. With time, this new custom of blessing and burning a new fire each year took root, becoming part of Christian Easter Sunday celebrations throughout most of Europe. These fires were to symbolize the light of the sun, to counteract the frigid climatic conditions often encountered in that part of the world in springtime. Even the name Easter has something to do with the sun: the old Norse word (from the sagas still read today by the children of Iceland in public schools) Eostur, Eastar, Ostara, and Ostar all imply a "season of the growing sun" and "season of new birth". Eostre was a semi-deity figure who held a corn sheaf in one hand and a basket of eggs in the other.

Here is a poem exemplifying Easter, with all of its promise of renewal and rebirth, written by Esther Cushman Randall:


 

ALWAYS AN EASTER

Always there is a springtime, always the flowers come;
Always a dew-pearled morning, kissed by the rising sun.
Always the bud and blossom, the tender leaf and blade
Bursting the tomb of winter, triumphant and unafraid.
Always a new day of life to greet out of an eastern sky,
Always a changing sunset to chart our courses by,
Always lives undefeated when faith is the star to guide,
Defiling the crimson shadows where Jesus was crucified.
Always a song from sorrow, always the day from night;
Always ideals and longings, a questing for love and right.
Always an Easter morning revealing the glory of God
Shining so pure on the lilies; bursting through friendly sod.



 

EASTER EGGS AND BASKETS


With all religiosity aside, one perennial symbol of Easter is the Easter egg. The ancient Phoenicians, Persians, Hindus, Egyptians, and other sophisticated cultures throughout antiquity held a common worldview or cosmovisión: they believed that the world itself was created out of an enormous egg! In one Hindu myth from ancient India, this Egg of the World broke into two separate halves, each representing the underlying duality in all of Creation. A golden half symbolized the sky, and a silver half terra firma or earth's soil and seas. The clouds were represented by the thin layer just under this worldwide eggshell. And out of this enormous egg was hatched our Sun, the garden-variety yellow star known to modern astronomers today.

Another such creation myth out of ancient Finland recounts the tale of Ukko, the God on high who sent the royal teal, a water bird, into the air ultimately to nest on the knee of the great Water-Mother. Whence from the shattered egg shells the teal had left behind, the firmament, the heavens above, and all of sacred Creation were formed! This eternal egg has come to symbolize fertility and procreation, or the birth and spawning of new Life itself. Such archetypes have permeated throughout many cultures since the dawn of humankind.

The Druids of the ancient Celtic world, who resided in the caves and forests of what is now England and France, believed that the eggs of serpents were sacred. In one of their seasonal springtime ceremonies, the priestly class would pile eggs in the center of a circular kiva and, holding hands to form a ring that represented eternal Life, prayed that the eggs would continue to procreate more of their kind. The eggs themselves stood for Life itself. According to one creation myth from the people of the Samoan Islands, it was believed that their god Tangaloa-Langi was hatched out of an egg Himself. The broken pieces of eggshells that remained had scattered over "the waters of the deep", thus having since formed what are the Polynesian Islands in the South Pacific Ocean today!

But just where did the Easter egg come from? Historians, archeologists, and diachronic lingüists cannot agree on whether the idea of Easter eggs grew out of the Egg of the World view as was held in pre-Columbian and ancient Hindu times, out of ancient Egyptian mythology, from the folklore of the Semites of the Tigris-Euphrates river valley in the Fertile Crescent, from the Farsi-speaking Iranians, or out of the caves of the rishis (or "seers") of ancient India. Due to a lack of written records along these lines, the mysteries abound to this day. The first book to mention Easter eggs in written form dates from over 500 years ago. Yet a Christianized North African tribe, originally out of the Hebraic House of David lineage, was the first tribe known to have colored eggs at Eastertide! And during the Middle Ages in northern Europe, the season of Lent held such strict adherence to the Holy Faith, that abstaining from meat for 40 days and 40 nights had become customary. But many "devout" carnivores had decided to substitute eggs for their carnivorous cravings. With due passage of time, religious customs held sway in the end and those who followed the Good Book had to do without eggs as well. During a poverty stricken, pestilence-infested Europe of the Dark Ages, bound in the cloisters of medieval thought, religious superstition, and bubonic plague paranoia, fresh hen, duck, and goose eggs at Eastertime had become a rather highly sought and desired commodity. Kings and noblemen began to give raw eggs to their castle manservants and chambermaidens during Easter's Holy Week. Starving children began begging for their Easter egg hand-outs throughout narrow, dreary, and rainy cobble stoned streets of pre-Renaissance Europe. This custom has survived today into present times in modern Europe wherein youngsters in England, France, Holland, and Flanders still pass from one house to the next asking for Easter eggs, much like American children pass from door-to-door during Hallowe'en while trick-or-treating, asking for chocolates and treats. Today's children of the British Isles call it pace-egging and as they romp from one house to the next, they sing or recite the following refrain:

 

Giant Easter Egg Weather Vane in Vegreville Alberta, Canada
Giant Easter Egg Weather Vane in Vegreville Alberta, Canada

Please, Mrs. Whiteleg
Please to give us an Easter egg,
If you won't give us an Easter egg,
Your hens will all lay addles eggs
And your cocks all lay stones.
 

In France, such chansons have mimicked their northern neighbors with:
 

J'ai ici un petit coq dans mon panier,
Et je vous chanterais si vous voulez
Avec des oeufs rouges et blancs à la coque. Alleluia!
 

In Holland, Dutch children decorate their country cottages with wreaths of green, tulips, and pastries made in the shape of chickens, eggs, or stars tied onto them. They then march down the country roads from one house to the next on Palm Sunday, begging for eggs (much like their poorer relations of former medieval times once did) with this cheery ditty on their lips:
 

Palm Easter, Palm Easter
Hei Koeri.
Soon it will be Easter morning,
Then we shall behold an egg.
One egg, two eggs, yet
The third one shall be the true Easter egg.
 

Baskets of eggs soon came to be blessed during church ceremonies on Easter Saturday, Holy Saturday, or el sábado de gloria, thus becoming the special breakfast for Easter Sunday in Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, and the now newly christened Czech Republic. The rising belief that Easter eggs planted in the ground contained magical properties began to spread throughout most of Europe by the late 18th and beginning 19th Centuries in such countries as Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece. Back in "merrie olde" England, by the turn-of the-century, it was firmly believed that an Easter egg buried on Good Friday and kept asunder for 100 years would turn into a diamond! Soon, the custom of decorating Easter eggs became a serious art form to be pursued by aficionados of the handicraft, especially in such Eastern European countries as (the former) East German Democratic Republic, the Ukraine, and Bulgaria. In Yugoslavia, it was customary to adorn the Easter eggs with an "X" and "Y" to represent "Christ is risen". Such painstakingly handmade eggs were blessed in church, especially on Easter Sunday, and were handed out to special relatives and endearing friends of the immediate family.

The art of scratching designs onto dyed Easter eggs was brought to us from Germany by means of the Pennsylvania (Deutch-speaking) Dutch. Although Easter was not widely celebrated in the United States until shortly after the Civil War, today Easter egg hunts are a common highlight of many an American Easter Sunday, along with several related activities such as rolling hard-boiled Easter eggs down a slope to see if it would reach bottom without breaking. Eggs often tossed into the air to see whose would fly the highest has become another "Pasqual" pastime. Another fancied disport includes playing with colored eggs, as if they were marbles.


THE EASTER RABBIT OR BUNNY

 

The Easter Bunny

But just who is this world-renowned Easter Bunny? And just where did s/he come from? Most scholars and religious historians agree that the Easter Bunny or Easter rabbit came from Germany and consequently crossed the Atlantic Ocean over 19th Century waters, along with the Christmas tree. Oster Haas, or the Easter hare as it is known in present-day Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, and Luxembourg, was an earthy symbol of fertility from out of the pagan festival fires of Eastre. This goddess Eastre was worshipped originally by the Anglo-Saxons through her vernal, animalistic representation of the rabbit or hare. Through time and the ensuing centuries, somehow, and into modern day Germany, the ancient custom of burning open fires on Easter Eve (much like Saint Patrick had done over a millennia before) had come to be known as "rabbit fires". These fires burned brightly on surrounding hilltops long into the night, just before Easter dawn, and German and Austrian children were told that the Easter Bunny himself had been heating special eggs in his sizzling kettles of dye, coloring them in order to leave on the porches for the children the following morning. The Easter rabbit has since spread around the globe as far south as the tropical climes of Centroamérica, to become the conejo de Pascua in Panamá, Guatemala, and other Central American nations, thanks in large part to Christianity and its spreading worldwide influence. The rabbit, throughout many cultures in history, has come to stand for fertility due to its strong tendency to propagate its own kind at springtime.

Another predominant symbol of Eastertide is the Easter lamb. This timely symbol takes us, once again, back to the Jewish people and their Hebraic ancestry of slavery in ancient Egypt, back to their first Passover. Before the Angel of God had taken the firstborn throughout the Holy Land, the Hebrew leader Moses, inspired by his God of Abraham, ordered that his people make a religious sacrifice: every Hebrew slave family was to smear the blood of a young lamb over the threshold door of their homes so that plague and pestilence would not enter their homes, thus allowing the "guardian Angel of God" to know which families should be saved. Then the lamb was ceremoniously roasted and eaten, along with baked unleavened bread without yeast, garnished in bitter herbs.

Jerusalem: heart of the Holy Land, Promised Land of the Jews, sacred haven of the Arabs, and the cradle of Christianity, with its surrounding small villages of Sepphoris, a Roman stronghold and birthplace of Jesus' mother Mary (rebuilt in 4 B.C. by Herod of Antipater), Cana with its strong Jewish populace, Nazareth (where Jesus's "lost years" were supposedly spent), and Capernaum, a pastoral fishing hamlet along the Sea of Galilee. Jesus's native tongue was Palestinian Aramaic of the Semitic Language family.

Now, when the two great monotheisms of Judaism and Christianity (both of which share Jerusalem as their holy city along with the Islamic Mohammed and his followers) had begun "to merge" somewhat in Christianity's early stages of development and subsequent travels, the Hebrews had brought with them their pre-Christian traditions of their ancient Passover festival. And one such ritual they introduced to the newly founded Faith of the Cross was their annual custom of the sacrifice of a lamb (hence our modern English expression of "sacrificial lamb".) Yet, in typical historical fashion, the Christians absorbed and adopted the lamb sacrifice ritual, then internalized it by making the lamb a symbol of Jesus the Christ. To the Jewish people, the lamb was a sacrifice to their invisible, portable God of Abraham. To the Christians, the meekness and gentility of the lamb came to represent the all-loving characteristics and perpetual manifestation of true Christ-consciousness.

For Christians all over our globe, forty days before Easter Sunday (not counting the Sundays in between) begins their religious season called Lent, meaning literally the "lengthening days" of sunlight as we approach the Northern Hemisphere's summer solstice on June 20-21st. The day before the first day of Lent, (from whence our term length originated) called Mardi Gras ("fatty or greasy Tuesday" in French) in which people indulge themselves in savory and sensorial delights to their utmost before having to soon go without, precedes Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the fasting season. Devout believers generally abstain from meat products for 40 days and 40 nights, recalling historically Jesus' forty days and forty nights spent in the Divine Presence out on the desert while fasting and meditating on the situation of the oppressive, unforgiving and perennially occupying Romans of the Middle Eastern world in which they held captive, in which Jesus himself had sojourned and preached.


SPRINGTIME COLORS AND FLOWERS

The colors most often associated with Easter are yellow, purple, white, green, and sometimes gold. As a collage they may represent the changing colors in nature during springtime, and the multitudinous array of flowers. Yellow stands for the sun and its beautiful bright radiance of dawn. This is also the color of the month of April, the month when Easter and post-equinox full moons most often occur. Purple, though often exemplifying royalty in many cultures, was imported most belatedly into the Easter picture vía the Christian circuit. In the language of religious symbols, this color signifies mourning, and is strongly associated with the sorrow felt over Christ's physical death on the Cross during the Lenten season, especially with the Catholic sect. White represents the pure Divine Light of God, exemplifying purity of heart, clarity in God-consciousness, and ecstatic blissful joy. Green stands for Nature's perpetual renewal of itself, especially during springtime. Gold is associated with abundance, both materially and spiritually, along with the golden radiance of dawn or daybreak.

Flowers that are associated with Easter are the Easter lily, tulips, and daffodils. Lilies and other flowers that grow out from bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, have become symbols of the Resurrection for many Christians throughout the world. The narcissus of early spring, from the Swiss Alps region, has long been considered an Easter flower locally for many centuries. And well before Christian times, this flower was an integral part of Greek mythology, as well. These colorful flowers all symbolize everything that Easter stands for: renewal at daylight, new seeds springing forth to new Life, and recovery from harsh northern winters. For, apart from any religious connections and affiliated associations, Easter is indeed a festival of hope and renewal for us all, of rebirth from static death, of elevation in our private conscious awareness, and especially of the awakening of our soul into the Light of heaven's promise, of humankind's joy in being alive.

 

Happy Easter From The Wizard of 'OZ'

HAPPY EASTER FROM THE WIZARD of 'OZ'