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.
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.
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.