When I was a kid, Easter was probably my third-favorite holiday, behind Halloween and Christmas. Christmas was, of course, the big one. It meant getting lots of cool toys and candy. Halloween was good because I liked the costumes and it was even more fun to get lots of candy.
Easter was fun because I got to hunt Easter eggs and because, yes, there was even more candy. It wasn’t as cool as Halloween, because Easter happens in springtime. I always liked the fall, even as a kid. And Easter didn’t bring quite as much candy.
I don’t think I ever really believed in the Easter Bunny. I enjoyed the concept, but the idea of a huge rabbit bringing Easter eggs to kids while they slept seemed far-fetched, even when I was six. And I was never sure what rabbits had to do with eggs anyway.
I still liked Easter as an adult with kids, because now I could watch them hunt Easter eggs. I was never good at it. I remember being in many Easter egg hunts as a kid, but I can’t remember ever actually finding any eggs.
Once, I got to go with a group of kids by bus to Indianapolis where we were dumped off at a huge field filled with hard-boiled goodies. When they said go, I, along with a few dozen other kids, scrambled across the field. They were all picking up colorful gems. I found nothing, except one broken egg that someone had spotted before me and decided to leave behind.
So when I had my own kids, they would get together with their cousins and we made sure that everyone found their fair share of Easter eggs for their baskets.
I always knew the religious significance of Easter. But in church, precious little was ever mentioned about what was most important to me, the candy, the eggs, and the baskets full of goodies. So when I had kids of my own, I decided to find out more about this holiday.
As it turns out, a form of Easter existed long before it became connected to Christianity. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eastre. When the second-century Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the north with their pagan celebrations, they attempted to convert them to Christianity. They did so, however, in a clandestine manner, because they wanted their beliefs to infiltrate the pagans slowly. It apparently worked.
So what about the Easter bunny? Did ancient bunnies really lay colorful eggs? Well, of course not. The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess Eastre was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.
The Germans brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. It was widely ignored by Christians until shortly after the Civil War. In fact, Easter itself was not widely celebrated in America until after that time.
As for the egg, the colored egg symbol also predates modern Easter. The exchange of eggs in the springtime is a custom that was centuries old when Easter was first celebrated by Christians.
From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. Eggs were often wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a peasant, colored brightly by boiling them with the leaves or petals of certain flowers.
Today, it’s good to know the tradition lives on. Children still hunt colored eggs and place them in Easter baskets along with the modern version of real Easter eggs -- those made of plastic or chocolate candy.
And so, the more festive nature of Easter, stripped of the tacked-on encumbrance of religious influence, continues to be carried on by our children, who help put the fun back in an otherwise solemn holiday.