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The Easter Rabbit: Pagan Origin

Plus the Origins of Easter Eggs

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You may need to practice rabbit pest control year-round. Indeed, you should protect your landscaping trees and shrubs against wild rabbits even in winter, encasing chicken wire fencing around the bases of their trunks, lest hungry rabbits nibble at them. But while rabbit pest control cannot be relegated to any one time of the year, what better time to discuss it than at Easter, with so much talk of the Easter Rabbit in the air? For children intent on hunting for the Easter eggs that he leaves behind, he may well be the "Easter Rabbit" (or "Easter Bunny"), but for landscapers, a far more fitting moniker would be "Eater Rabbit."

On Pages 2 and 3 we'll look at rabbit pest control measures that landscapers can take, so as to avoid having their plants eaten by marauding rabbits. But as an Easter tribute to these adorable garden pests, it is fitting that we should first explore the origin of the Easter Rabbit. After all, the connection between Christianity's Resurrection, colorful eggs and a rabbit is anything but clear at first glance.

Origin of the Easter Rabbit: A Tradition of Fertility

Some of the confusion is dispelled by looking at the origin of the very word, "Easter." For all the pagan traditions associated with it, "Christmas" is at least easily recognizable as a Christian holiday, from its name alone. But Easter is named after Eastre, a pagan Saxon goddess!

Eastre (earlier, Eostre, derived from the Saxons' Germanic heritage) was the Anglo-Saxon name of a Teutonic goddess of dawn, spring and fertility. Our word, "east" is related to this deity's name. Her male consort was the Sun god, and the sun does rise, after all, at dawn and in the east. Rites of spring were celebrated in her honor at the vernal equinox (first day of spring). The first Sunday after the first full moon succeeding the vernal equinox was also sacred to her, and this pagan holiday was given her name -- Eastre. The full moon represented the "pregnant" phase of Eastre -- she was passing into the fertile season and giving birth to the Sun's offspring.

Eastre's symbols were the hare and the egg. Both represent fertility and, consequently, rebirth. Since rabbits are more common in most lands than hares, over time the rabbit has been substituted -- not without merit, since rabbits are notorious for their fertility. Thus was born the "Easter Rabbit" tradition.

Dyed eggs were already being used as part of pagan rituals at the dawn of history in the Near Eastern civilizations. These were the first "Easter eggs." As the traditions of the Easter Rabbit and Easter eggs evolved, they were lumped together -- somewhat incongruously. Thus in our modern Easter lore, although the Easter Rabbit is sometimes thought of as laying the Easter eggs so eagerly sought by children, the Easter Rabbit is nonetheless often regarded as male. Since rabbits don't lay eggs anyhow, I suppose quibbling over gender wouldn't make much sense.

Later, the new Christian religion, with its emphasis on rebirth (through the Resurrection), found it expedient to continue celebrating Eastre's holiday. The focus simply switched to Christ -- and the spelling, eventually, to "Easter."

So much for Easter origins and the Easter Rabbit. But what about rabbit pest control? That is the subject of Page 2....

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