Out of the Past
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Easter Bunnies, Eggs and Ham
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003 All rights reserved.

What is it with Easter Bunnies, anyway? Eggs and ham suggest breakfast, not a religious holiday. And what's with the decorated egg shells?

These symbols are everywhere this time of year, but what do they have to do with the Christian celebration of the Resurrection? Do white rabbits have some spiritual significance? Are colored eggs Christian? And why eat ham on a day celebrating Jesus, a lifelong Jew who never touched the meat?

Truth is, the name Easter (or Eastre, actually) belongs to a Scandinavian goddess or forest nymph. Easter was celebrated in festivals at the vernal equinox for centuries before the Resurrection. Her earthly symbol, signifying springtime and regeneration, was a white rabbit.

Early Christians observed the Resurrection at about the same time, and to win converts among the pagan tribes they merged their holiday with that of the natives. The stratagem worked. Easter became a Christian occasion, but the white bunny character prevailed.

Eggs have an even deeper history. They have long been symbols of birth and resurrection. Early Persians believed the world was hatched from an egg and the Egyptians who built the pyramids exchanged colored eggs each spring in celebration of the World-Egg of their creation myths.

The Jewish people, who spent many years in bondage to the Egyptians, included hard-boiled eggs in their ceremonial Passover meal celebrating their “rebirth” and exodus from Egypt. The Last Supper was a Passover meal and Jesus undoubtedly had eggs on his plate.




Life of all kinds emerges from eggs, or egg-shaped seeds, and much of this breakout is occurring now, in springtime. What better time, then, to celebrate the Resurrection? What better symbol for new hope than the egg?

According to legend, an egg merchant helped carry Christ’s cross to Calvary. When he returned to his farm he found his hens’ eggs were a miraculous rainbow of colors. This inspired pysanki, the practice of painting bright colors and intricate patterns on the shells of eggs as a celebration of Easter.

As for eating ham at Eastertime, there is nothing spiritual about the
habit. The origins are clearly racist. Old English Anglo-Saxons of about a thousand years ago were vehemently anti-Semitic. They sought to demonstrate their differences, especially at Easter, and so they would eat a gammon of bacon just to prove they weren’t Jewish, because Jews were forbidden to eat pork.
Ham Rack
Ham

William the Conqueror, who led the Norman Conquests, was equally anti-Semitic but he hated bacon. When he became King of England one of his first acts was to insist on hams instead of bacon. English-speaking Christians have been basting Easter hams instead of frying Easter bacon ever since.


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