Decorated colorful eggs, bright yellow fluffy chicks and crackling warm fireplaces in spring: Around Easter, the most important festival in the Christian church calendar, there are numerous customs and traditions for young and old. But the rabbit is the most important symbol of Easter. Millions of children in Germany believe in the little animal that hides colorfully painted eggs at Easter, and every year they go in search of it.
The bunny as a symbol: What does the Easter bunny have to do with the festival?
It has not been finally clarified why the hare, which is keen to reproduce, became the most popular supplier of eggs. Folklorists suspect that the hare, as a symbol of life, is intended to symbolize nature awakening at Easter. The Easter egg, which has been traditionally red since the 13th century, symbolizes this: as the color of life, of joy and as a symbol of the blood of Christ.
But that’s not the only theory: another suspects that the traditional Easter lamb bread often deformed during baking and took on the shape of a rabbit. Another explanation for the Easter bunny tradition is provided by the image of the three bunnies, which shows three bunnies connected by their ears in a circle and which often found influence in church art.
The fact that the rabbit hides painted eggs in the garden, which children then find in the moss on Easter morning, is mentioned for the first time in 1682 by the physician Georg Franck von Franckenau in the treatise “De ovis paschalibus – von Oster-Eyern”. He describes the phenomenon that the Easter Bunny hides eggs in certain German regions – and calls it “a fable that is tied to simpletons and children”.
The whimsical custom was still unknown in many parts of Germany at the beginning of the 19th century. It was initially widespread in Alsace and the Palatinate. Under the influence of the candy and toy industry, it soon became popular nationwide.
How are the Easter bunny and Easter egg related to Christianity?
However, there is a connection between the Easter bunny and Christianity: in Byzantium, the bunny was a sign of Jesus in animal symbolism. After that, in early Christianity, it enjoyed a less good reputation, because the hare, which was eager to reproduce, was considered a symbol of fornication. Pagan mythologies, on the other hand, used its ability to reproduce as an argument for the hare: there the animal was considered a symbol of sensuality. In addition, Master Lamp, the sacred animal of the Germanic spring goddess Ostara, played an important role in the rabbit’s popularity.
But the egg itself is even more important as a symbol of life and resurrection. This is what the Christian Easter festival reminds us of: the crucified Jesus has risen from the dead, God gives new life. Even the church father Augustine, born in 354, interpreted the egg theologically. And throughout European art history, the egg symbolizes the resurrection – Christ broke through the grave and thus death like a chick through the shell of its egg.
Eggs usually colored red as Easter gifts were known in Germany as early as the 13th century. In the Orthodox churches, the Easter egg has a special meaning: In Russia, magic abilities are ascribed to eggs consecrated in churches.