In terms of beloved figures central to Christian children’s mythology, the Easter Bunny would probably show up near the top, well below Santa Claus but higher than Jesus, The Sandman and the Tooth Fairy. Actually, I was never too crazy about the Tooth Fairy. What does she does with all those teeth? Why does she buy our silence with micropayments left under our pillows?
Questions about the Easter Bunny are less frightening and more practical. How does a rabbit lay eggs? Where does the Easter Bunny live the rest of the year? How does he carry the Easter basket? And perhaps, what does he have to do with Christ Jesus‘ resurrection (if you’re Rod or Tod)?
Of course, like all great holy days, Easter‘s roots aren’t in Christianity. Whereas usually the Churchies change the name of the holiday when moving their religious observance onto its pagan foundation, in this case they left the old name. This could be because Eostre, a goddess of the Angles and Saxons, hadn’t been actively worshiped for some time when Jesus‘ resurrection was being celebrated.
The Venerable Bede, the Northumbrian monk who is known as the “Father of English History” wrote, somewhat speculatively:
In olden time the English people – for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s – calculated their months according to the course of the moon. Hence after the manner of the Hebrews and the Greeks, [the months] take their name from the moon, for the moon is called mona and the month monath.
The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Sol-monath; March Hreth-monath; April, Eostur-monath; May Thrimilchi…
Eostur-monath has a name which is now translated Paschal month, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.
So the new owners kept the old name since no one could remember exactly what it meant anyway. And they kept the furnishings too, like obvious symbols of spring and fertility like eggs and mad march hares- typically shy animals driven temporarily insane with lust.
Me with Blackberry Dewberry and my sister sporting what was deemed acceptable clothing in 1970s Kentucky
The Pennsylvania Dutch (aka German-Americans) introduced the Osterhas (or Oschter Haws meaning “Easter Hare”) to America. The Easter Hare was yet another one of their many characters designed to bribe children into behaving well. In the case of the Easter Hare, the reward is to have a small mammal lay colored eggs in your bonnets. I always looked forward to Cadbury Cream Eggs, candy malt eggs, jelly beans and a hollow chocolate rabbit. My sister would eat just a little of hers at a time, making it last well into summer. Her willpower both astounded and disgusted me.
I am especially happy because I’ve just discovered a licorice jellybean. Note the orange one beneath the record player.
The painting of Easter Eggs may be traced to Nowrooz (نوروز)— the Vernal Equinox/New Year celebration celebrated by Arayans, Turkic peoples, Sufis, Baha’i, Zoroastrians and others. Or maybe Easter andNowrooz share and common past just beyond the dark reaches of prehistory. I’ll ask God when I’m inHeaven. I remember seeing all the amazing, artistic eggs from Eastern Europe as a kid and wanting to do something like that but it seemed really time-consuming so we always used the ubiquitous Paas dyes in Kool-Aid cups filling the kitchen air with vinegary smells.
Ukranian Pysanky American Easter Eggs
The Easter Egg Tree comes from Germany and Ukraine. Supposedly it wasn’t widely popular until the publication of Katherine Milhous‘s The Egg Trea in the 1950s; a book with which I was familiar as a child. I remember getting light-headed blowing out eggs as a kid and then hanging them on a leafless tree anchored by gravel in a glass peanut butter jar. Now you see them pre-made and for sale in stores which is, in my opionion, taking all the fun out of it. Why stop there? Go buy a book of crosswords where the answers have all been filled in. People nowadays.
Anyway, Em and I went to Elysian Park to play some Easter tennis. There were lots of lowriders, grillouts and kids with inflatable hammers whacking each other and/or riding skateboards down hillsides. The park was seriously packed to the gills with families enjoying the weather and each other’s company. After that it was off to the bar in Cypress Park where they were grilling out too, as well as sharing cupcakes and Easter candy. It wasn’t like Easter when I was a kid, but fun nonetheless.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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