Easter Traditions of Eggs and Rabbits

Easter traditions of Eggs and Rabbits

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In multicultural Canada, some who are not Christian might wonder why at this time the stores are stocked with decorative eggs, chocolate eggs and bunnies.

A brief explanation therefore is warranted:

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Why Eggs?

First and foremost, Eggs are known to be a traditional symbol of fertility and rebirth, pre-dating Christian traditions.  The custom of decorating eggshells is an ancient one. Ostrich eggs with engraved decorations for instance dating back 60,000 years have been discovered in Africa.  Meanwhile decorated ostrich eggs, and representations of ostrich eggs in gold and silver, were usually placed in the graves of ancient Egyptians and Sumerians going back as far as 5,000 years.

The ancient Zoroastrians painted eggs for Nowruz, their New Year celebration, at the spring equinox. The tradition continues today among Persians of Islamic, Zoroastrian, and other faiths. The sculptures on the walls of Persepolis show people carrying eggs for Nowruz to the king.

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Easter eggs are special eggs that at present are often given to celebrate Easter or springtime. This tradition goes all the way back to early Christians of Mesopotamia, who had once stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ. The egg symbol was later officially adopted by the Christian church as the symbol of resurrection.  For all Christians, it is a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave.   It once was a custom to use up all the household eggs before Lent began. Eggs were originally forbidden during Lent you see, as well as other dairy and meat products.

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Easter eggs are a popular symbol of life in Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and other Central European countries ‘folk traditions.  A batik (wax resist) process is used to create intricate, brilliant colored eggs, the best known of which is the Ukrainian pysanka and the Polish pisanka.  At one time, 60 or more eggs would have been decorated by the women of the household. These eggs would be taken to church on Easter Sunday to be blessed before being given away.

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There are many other decorating techniques and traditions of giving Eggs as a token of friendship, love and good wishes.  In some Mediterranean countries, especially in Lebanon, chicken eggs are boiled and decorated dye and or painting. In Greece, on Easter Sunday friends and family hit each other’s egg s together.  The one whose egg does not break is believed to be in for good luck in future.

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In Germany eggs decorate trees and bushes as Easter eggtrees, and in several areas public wells as Osterbrunnen.

In Scotland children roll painted eggs down steep hills on Easter Sunday.  Egg rolling is also a traditional Easter egg game played with eggs in the United Kingdom, Germany and many other countries.

This tradition was brought to New World by European settlers and continues to this day.  In the U.S.A. it is done on flat ground and is pushed along with a spoon. On the White House lawn the annual Egg Roll is a fun event and is accompanied by the Easter egg hunt.

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Why Rabbits?

The Easter Bunny or Easter Rabbit is a endearing character that brings Easter eggs (mostly in the form of chocolate) to children.

Easter Bunny

Rabits and Hares, like Eggs, are considered fertility symbols since the olden days. Because birds lay eggs and rabbits give birth to large litters in the early spring these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the March Equinox.

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Rabbits are prolific breeders. They can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first.  This phenomenon is known as  superfetation. Lagomorphs mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year (hence the saying, “to breed like a rabbit”). It is therefore not surprising that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore. In ancient times it was widely believed that the hare was a hermaphrodite.

The idea that a hare could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary. It may also have been associated with the  Holy Trinity, as in the  three hares motif, representing the “One in Three and Three in One” of which the triangle or three interlocking shapes such as rings are common symbols.

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Happy Easter Everyone!

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