Easter, like other religious holidays, reflects symbolism from pagan feast days–part of the Church’s efforts to convert people from their ancient beliefs to Christianity. A few days ago, I read an interesting piece by anthropologist and folklore expert Tok Thompson, reprinted in Smithsonian Magazine: The Ancient Origins of the Easter Bunny. A scholar traces the folk figure’s history from the Neolithic era to today.
Easter is a celebration of spring and new life. Eggs and flowers are rather obvious symbols of female fertility, but in European traditions, the bunny, with its amazing reproductive potential, is not far behind.
In European traditions, the Easter bunny is known as the Easter hare. The symbolism of the hare has had many tantalizing ritual and religious roles down through the years.
Over a thousand years later, during the Iron Age, ritual burials for hares were common, and in 51 B.C.E., Julius Caesar mentioned that in Britain, hares were not eaten due to their religious significance.
Caesar would likely have known that in the classical Greek tradition, hares were sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Meanwhile, Aphrodite’s son Eros was often depicted carrying a hare as a symbol of unquenchable desire.
From the Greek world through the Renaissance, hares often appear as symbols of sexuality in literature and art. For example, the Virgin Mary is often shown with a white hare or rabbit, symbolizing that she overcame sexual temptation.
But it is in the folk traditions of England and Germany that the figure of the hare is specifically connected to Easter. Accounts from the 1600s in Germany describe children hunting for Easter eggs hidden by the Easter hare, much as in the United States today.
Written accounts from England around the same time also mention the Easter hare, particularly in terms of traditional Easter hare hunts and the eating of hare meat at Easter. One tradition, known as the “Hare Pie Scramble,” was held at Hallaton, a village in Leicestershire, England. It involved eating a pie made with hare meat and people “scrambling” for a slice. In 1790, the local parson tried to stop the custom due to its pagan associations, but he was unsuccessful, and the custom continues in that village until this day.
As for the pagan origins of Easter and the Easter bunny,
In 1835, the folklorist Jacob Grimm, one of the famous team of the fairy tale Brothers Grimm, argued that the Easter hare was connected to a goddess he imagined would have been called “Ostara” in ancient German. He derived this name from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, who Bede, an early medieval monk considered to be the father of English history, mentioned in 731 C.E.
Here in the U.S., there has long been a tradition of an Easter egg roll at the White House. The event will take place this year on Monday, April 18 after a two-year hiatus during the pandemic. CNN: Biden White House hatches plans for return of the Egg Roll.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are taking their first crack at the time-honored Easter tradition on Monday, which will mark the 142nd White House Easter Egg Roll following a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme of the event, the first lady’s office says, is “EGGucation,” with the South Lawn being “transformed into a school community” for 30,000 visitors to enjoy, including military families from the USS Delaware.
The American Egg Board is donating 90,000 eggs to the event as part of its longtime partnership with the White House, egg board president and CEO Emily Metz told CNN. That includes approximately 50,000 hard-boiled eggs that will be used for the egg roll races with wooden spoons, the egg hunt, and for dyeing and decorating. Those eggs were hard-boiled, dyed and transported from North Carolina to Washington on a refrigerated truck by Braswell Family Farms’ John Watson, where they will be stored over the weekend ahead of Monday’s festivities.
Forty thousand additional eggs have been donated to be used for food items for guests, Metz said….
The American Egg Board will also present its annual commemorative egg to the first lady, part of a 45-year tradition beginning with the Carter administration. Artist Russ Hagen, a member of the International Egg Art Guild, was selected to paint the 2021 and 2022 commemorative eggs, a months-long undertaking that included a design to match the “EGGucation” theme created by Mary O’Reilly and the inside of a real chicken egg being blown out through a special process, leaving the shell intact, before the decoration could begin.
This year, all 45 eggs that have been presented to first ladies over the years are being displayed together for the first time in a special “Colonnade of Eggs” in the East Wing of the White House for visitors to view on tours.
As I wrote above, the WH Easter egg roll has a long history. From The White House Historical Association: Origins of the White House Easter Egg Roll.
Since 1878, American presidents and their families have celebrated Easter Monday by hosting an ‘egg roll’ party. Held on the South Lawn, it is one of the oldest annual events in White House history. Some historians note that First Lady Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll, while others tell stories of informal egg-rolling parties at the White House dating back to President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. Beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all social levels celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol. Children rolled brilliantly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the terraced lawn.
However, by 1876, a concern for the landscape led Congress to pass legislation to restrict the public use of the Capitol grounds, effectively prohibiting any future egg rolling. The new edict went unchallenged in 1877, as rain cancelled all the day’s activities, but in 1878 President Rutherford B. Hayes decided to open the South Lawn to egg rollers, as it had previously been reserved for the First Family’s private Easter activities. Thus, a new tradition was born. In 1974, the Nixons hosted egg roll races, an event which has become an Easter Monday favorite.
This morning, historian Michael Bechloss posted a photo of the 1926 egg roll.
I suppose I have to include some news in this post, although I’d rather just think about cats and bunnies and Spring flowers.
The only real good news I’m seeing is that the Boston Marathon will once again be held on Monday. CNN: Runners ‘pumped’ as Boston Marathon returns to April.
The Boston Marathon returns to its traditional April date for the first time in three years on Monday with the fastest field in the race’s history, boasting a star-studded slate of previous champions and Olympic medalists.
Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir leads the women’s field hot off her Tokyo Olympic gold medal and New York City Marathon victory last year, while local hero Molly Seidel is looking to build off her bronze medal at that Olympics and triumph in her first Boston Marathon.
In the men’s division, Kenya’s Benson Kipruto is looking to repeat just six months after he won at last year’s delayed race, but will face tough competition from last year’s New York winner, compatriot Albert Korir, and 2021 London winner Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia.
“It’s exciting. It’s always cool to feel like you’re coming to your hometown race. I’m really pumped to actually go at it on this course rather than just training on it,” Seidel, an American and a former Boston resident, told Reuters on Friday.
But will the Marathon be a superspreader event? Covid-19 cases are rising rapidly in the Northeast. We’ve had well over 2,000 new cases on each of the past few days here in Massachusetts. New York is seeing more than 5,000 per day. Those are undercounts, of course, because so many people are using home tests now, but wastewater testing reveals high levels of virus in Northeastern states.
The New York Times: The Omicron BA.2 subvariant has stalled pandemic progress in the U.S.
About 30,000 marathoners from 122 countries and all 50 U.S. states will hit the streets on Monday in and around Boston, where the city’s Public Health Commission reports that the Covid positivity rate has risen to 6.6 percent, passing its “threshold of concern” of 5 percent.
The agency urged residents to mask, to test before joining indoor gatherings, to gather outdoors if possible, and to get booster shots to protect themselves and others in the coming days as Easter, Passover, Ramadan and public school vacations converge. The city’s positivity rate has risen by 4 percentage points since early March, it noted.
This month the Omicron BA.2 subvariant has flattened the steep downward glide in official case counts that Boston and the rest of the country had been on after the BA.1 surge in the winter. The turn is not unexpected, but it comes as in-person gatherings have resumed, vaccinations have flatlined, officially reported tests are falling and politicians and many Americans want an end to most restrictions.
And while hospitalizations and deaths remain on the decline nationally, concerns are rising for unvaccinated and unboosted people, who remain more vulnerable to serious illness and death.
More Covid stories to check out:
The Washington Post: New, highly transmissible forms of omicron may pose latest covid threat.
FiveThirtyEight: Do Americans Care About The Latest COVID-19 Wave In The Northeast?
I’m going to post more stories as links only because I just don’t want to think about bad news today. Here’s what’s happening:
The Washington Post: Ukrainian governor says Mariupol ‘has been wiped off the face of the earth.’
The New York Times: How Russian Media Uses Fox News to Make Its Case.
Michael Kruse at Politico: The One Way History Shows Trump’s Personality Cult Will End.
The New York Times: As G.O.P. Candidates Face Accusations, Rivals Tread Carefully.
That’s it for me today. I hope you all have a nice Easter weekend.