Growing up Catholic, Easter was always the most confusing holiday for me.
On one hand, Easter was a celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was born, God made man, to a virgin. He preached and performed miracles. Brutalized and crucified, he died for our sins. Three days later, he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. God sacrificing His only begotten son opened the doors of heaven to us, if we would believe and have faith. WOW.
On the other hand, the Easter Bunny secretly invaded our home in the middle of the night. A freaking rabbit. EB hid treats all over the house, which we children had to sleepily search for on Easter morn. The grand prize was a large individualized Easter basket, also hidden, with our names written on it. Then we would gorge ourselves on chocolates and Easter eggs until we were puking in our mouths at Easter mass. WTF?
This never computed in my child brain. How could something so sacrosanct and something so commercial coexist on the same holiday?
To make it more confusing, historians remain conflicted as to the origin of the term “Easter”. Why not call it “Resurrection Day” or “Jesus Day”?
Most researchers support the findings of the seventh century monk, St Bede, that the Anglo-Saxons named the month of April after the pagan goddess, Eostre. Also spelled Eastre, her festival commemorated the arrival of spring.
Over time, as Christianity supplanted ancient religions, the English term “Easter” helped smooth the transition from pagan to Christian. By retaining remnant names and dates, the Saxons could retain some cultural identity, even as they replaced the many old gods with the one new God.
And what about the Easter Bunny?
Some blame the German tradition of a mythical bunny named Osterhase crapping out colored eggs in a basket as the root infiltrator of Christian traditions. Not sure that theory scratches my intellectual itch.
But let’s run with it, because EB clearly shares the holiday with Jesus today. One could also argue EB inappropriately steals the limelight from JC today. And that’s not right, he said in his favorite Kevin Meaney imitation.
After rigorous academic debate over many years, historians and theologians have pieced together four hypotheses that support how the Easter Bunny could exist on Christianity’s most holy day.
- Jesus knew kids were dicks. Jesus had been a kid. He should know firsthand. Growing up poor, there is some scholarly debate that Jesus may have had a chip on His shoulder. If true, then it stands to reason that Jesus himself created the Easter candy tradition to punish future “rich kids” with gluttony and diabetes so that they could sample a chocolaty piece of His suffering on the road to Calvary. In general, Jesus was keenly aware that kids were born dicks and needed to remedy that design flaw to prepare them for grace (visit Jeux Sans Frontières to learn the full story). Pulling together an elite team of jaded apostles to deliver him a plan, Jesus made history by introducing candy at Easter. Although that same history has lost track of which apostles, I have my guesses. Judas and Thomas were the more impish apostles. Only makes sense that Jesus would require their unique set of skills. The final plan that continues through today provided for such obscene quality and quantity of candy that kids felt nasty and exhausted for days after Easter. And the irony of having a fuzzy, innocent bunny deliver the poison makes His revenge even more delicious. Lesson learned. Do unto others.
- Jesus needed to give kids relief after Lent. To Catholics, Lent is literally a living purgatory. Giving up things you love for six freaking weeks in preparation for Easter is beyond the pale for a child. Add to that the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent? I still heave a little bit when I think of my mother and grandmother’s Lenten tuna noodle casseroles, one with peas, one without. The chocolate we gorged on Easter Sunday was scant payment for such abject cruelty for forty days prior. But it was at least something. Jesus was smart, maybe prescient. Oh wait, he was God. Definitely prescient. He foresaw the value of this ultimate carrot and stick system for making it through Lent. Lent was the stick, and Easter was the carrot. Because it was a carrot, the messenger must be a bunny. Because bunnies love carrots. Obvi. Amazing how kind yet logical God can be, isn’t it?
- Jesus was lactose intolerant. Although the technology did not exist at the time to prove it, science seems to indicate that Jesus was not a fan of dairy. A tall glass of milk on a warm desert morning would wreak havoc on His digestive tract before preaching to the masses. Not once in the bible did Matthew or John discuss His flatulence, as they ensured he adhered to a strict diet of wine, bread, and fish (quantities of which they never ran out). In support of His healthy Mediterranean diet, Jesus created the tradition of Easter eggs, delivered by the Easter Bunny as a healthy snack to kids. As early Christian history goes, the bunny stole them from the Easter Duck, because ducks are miserable creatures and bunnies were Jesus’s favorite. Jesus did not really tolerate eggs well either, but it was better than an Easter Cow bringing kids Easter Milk. That made no sense. And then the Germans screwed things up, as history shows, by creating chocolate eggs sometime in the early nineteenth century. Nicht gut.
- Jesus had a holy pet rabbit named Reg. Much has been said about the gnostic scriptures discovered nearly two thousand years after Jesus’s resurrection. The chapters of the modern bible we read today were edited to fit the canon of the Roman Catholic Church in the first few centuries after Jesus died. The remaining scripture was excluded – some would argue discarded – because it did not all neatly fit a digestible story of Jesus. The oft ignored Gospel of Reg was one of them. No one is sure who wrote Reg, but there are fringe thinkers who believe Reg wrote it himself. That seems silly to me, but miracles do happen. From his first days in the manger, Reg was at Jesus’s side gently nibbling carrots. According to the gnostic tomes, several of the apostles were jealous of Reg. Especially John. He was always Jesus’s fave. There is a vague reference to John intentionally falling on Reg, crushing his little body, killing him. Jesus was recorded as saying, Reg, veni foras; and the wee reanimated rodent leapt with a squeak into Jesus’s arms. Historians now wonder whether this was the real story of Lazarus. There may also be some confusion about the translation errors around the term “Lamb of God”. It may in fact refer to Reg, the Lapin of God. Either way, Jesus truly adored Reg. He clearly could be the Easter Bunny. Explains a lot of the Santa-esque magic EB can pull off, too.
It all makes so much more sense to me as an adult. Irrespective of which theory you subscribe to, Jesus irrefutably enabled the Easter Bunny legend to share His biggest day.
Jesus was all about love. This probably best supports the Gospel of Reg theory. He sure loved that rabbit. Not sure why the early church decided to edit Reg out. Bad marketing on their part. The story is a delight.
Historical and religious conundrum solved. We can now return to our Easter holiday of sheltering in place during this Covid plague, watching loved ones eating ham on Zoom, basking in the confidence we have no problem with a bunny sharing the limelight with the Savior.
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