Perhaps you’ve never stopped to think about what eggs and the Easter Bunny have to do with each other—after all, rabbits don’t even lay eggs. It’s a bit bizarre, isn’t it? Decorating eggs, passing them out as gifts, hunting for them, paying homage to a strange rabbit…what does any of it have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
Easter first started out as a celebration of the Spring Equinox: a time when all of nature is awakened from the slumber of winter and the cycle of renewal begins.
Anglo-Saxon pagans celebrated this time of rebirth by invoking Ēostre or Ostara, the goddess of spring, the dawn, and fertility. Particularly in ancient times, fertility was of singular importance to ensure the survival of a species or group of people (after all, if you didn’t get it on, there would be no future generations). To celebrate nature’s “rebirth,” the ancients would hold festivals in April to honor the Goddess, which most likely included lavish sex rituals, and even full-on orgies.
Ancient tribal people were no strangers to sex rituals: worshippers of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, fertility, and madness, would hold orgies in order to celebrate and evoke the ecstatic state of the son of Zeus. Ultimately, in the ancient traditions, sex didn’t have the same shameful taboos like it does today.
For that answer, you have to look at how Christianity spread across the world and subsumed pagan rituals.
Christianity slowly began its transition as the popular religion in Rome (and thus around the world) under the Emperor Constantine I (306–337 AD). Constantine converted from Paganism to Christianity in 312 AD, and finally brought an end to the persecution of Christians. Before that time, the majority of Romans were Pagan and held fast to their old traditions, teachings, and rituals. Constantine The Great, as well as the Roman leaders after him, knew it would be challenge to get everyone to convert to Christianity over night.
Instead of eliminating the spring equinox/pagan celebrations altogether, Roman rulers slowly converted them into Christian rituals. Christianity’s rapid spread across the Western World eventually enveloped ancient Celtic pagan traditions, too— including the rituals of Ēostre. By 391 AD, the worship of any gods outside of the God of Abraham was made illegal in Rome.
Jesus’s rebirth took the place (symbolically) of nature’s rebirth during the spring season. The celebration of fertility and fecundity was replaced with the subtle, innocuous symbol of the “egg,” and the hare became the Easter Bunny because…well, rabbits reproduce quickly and in large numbers. (Ever heard the term “they f*ck like rabbits”?). Oh, and take a wild guess at Ēostre’s sacred animal symbol. (That’s right, it’s the hare.)
Just remember: when you’re decorating eggs at the kitchen table with your children or crowding around the Easter Bunny’s lap at the mall, you’re actually paying homage to the ancient pagan rituals of the past.