(Photo: Reuters/Eric Thayer)
Christians will celebrate Easter this Sunday to observe when Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. Yet along with the sacred observance will come a more secular American tradition wherein many children will leave out baskets with the playful expectation that the Easter Bunny will come.
According to popular lore, it is the Easter Bunny who provides goodies (usually chocolate candy or ornate eggs) to children who leave their baskets out the night before. Many candy companies have taken advantage of the popular tradition and offer Easter Bunny-themed candy for that part of the year.
However, where did this tradition of a bunny that gave out eggs come from?
According to the History Channel's website, the precise origins of this non-biblical Easter figure are unclear but may have roots in German immigrant communities of the 18th century. "According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called 'Osterhase' or 'Oschter Haws'," reads an entry on its site.
"Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit's Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Additionally, children often left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping."
The concept of a bunny and eggs likely derives from the ancient tradition of rabbits being symbols of fertility. This ancient concept can still be seen today with such clichés as "they reproduce like bunnies."
In an article about Easter lore, Barbara Mikkelson of snopes.com credited the Easter Bunny with a Germanic origin as well.
"The Easter Bunny is German in origin. He shows up in 16th century literature as a deliverer of eggs, in his own way a springtime St. Nicholas bent on rewarding the good," wrote Mikkelson, adding that "Colored eggs were left only for well-behaved good children."
The significance of eggs came from their symbolizing new life as well as fertility and continuing life. Mikkelson wrote about how Christianity adopted the symbol.
"As Christianity spread, the egg was adopted as a symbol of Christ's resurrection from the tomb (a hard casket from which new life will emerge)," wrote Mikkelson.
Dr. Quentin P Kinnison, assistant professor of Contemporary Christian Ministries at Fresno Pacific University, told The Christian Post that the secular symbols of Easter were oftentimes used by Christian missionaries when evangelizing cultures lacking a Judeo-Christian background.
"Hosts of international communities decorate and participate in these traditions in their own unique ways. The Christian Church and its ambassadors throughout history have appropriated the symbols of the cultures they encountered," said Kinnison.
"The use of eggs in particular has been used to identify the essence of life and the resurrection of Christ. By using these known symbols within the culture, Christian missionaries find ways to connect and communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ to cultures unfamiliar with the biblical stories and narratives."
Kinnison compared the practice to what Paul of Tarsus did at Mar's Hill as recorded in Acts 17. However, Kinnison also told CP of the caution that should be noted with this practice.
"What becomes problematic is when we lose the meaning of the symbols and they take on new or different cultural values that are antithetical to the Gospel," said Kinnison.
Steve Russo, a Christian evangelist from Ontario, Calif., and host of the radio program "Real Answers," wrote a column for The Baptist Press regarding the issue of Christian parents and the Easter Bunny. "Before we get too carried away about holiday traditions, let's remember all the things that are such an integral part of our culture, things like birthday cakes and even calendars and the days of the week – all of which have pagan roots," wrote Russo.
"It's not necessary to deprive your children of good fiction so long as they understand the difference between fact and fiction. If you are careful and wise in how you incorporate the Easter bunny tradition, it can be fun for you and your children and also provide a great springboard for your family's discussion about why we celebrate Easter."