Many of us will be tucking into chocolate eggs this Easter long weekend, completely unaware of the relevance of the bunny, the chocolate and painted eggs.
We all know that eggs are a symbol of new life -- meaningful in the Christian celebration of Christ's resurrection -- but when it comes to chocolate, rabbits and the actual date of Easter, the real reasons behind the tradition are not facts carried over from childhood to adulthood. So when you're licking your chocolate coated fingers this Easter, spare a thought for the real reasons behind the age-old tradition. Hint: there is no such thing as the Easter Bunny. (It was originally a Hare!)
Professor Carole Cusak from University of Sydney Department of Studies in Religion told The Huffington Post Australia eggs became associated with the Paschal feast in the early Christian era.
"In spring, eggs were an eloquent explanation of the Resurrection; after the chill of the winter months, nature was coming to life again. In the Middle Ages it was a special treat to eat decorated eggs after Mass on Easter Sunday, after fasting through Lent. The chocolate eggs that we delight in today began to be manufactured in the nineteenth century," Professor Cusak said.
"Eggs related to fertility. In Germany, they used to bury painted eggs for treasure hunts and because hares are often seen in gardens in Spring, folklore said the hares hid the eggs for children to find. The first association of the rabbit with Easter is a mention of the ‘Easter hare’ in Germany. Hares or rabbits are associated with Easter because they are reputed to breed rapidly – a life-affirming thing.
There’s a good explanation for why the date we celebrate Easter is different every year -- it has to do with the fact that for the early church, Easter was a matter of connecting a Lunar and Solar calendar and that’s still how the reckoning is done today.
“The Greek and Russian Orthodox churches work it out differently but for us it works like this: when Jesus is actually crucified and dies and then rises on the Sunday, the supper he has on holy Thursday is connected to Passover," Professor Cusack said.
“In the New Testament it says it’s the Passover season. Passover is the feast in the book of Exodus when then Israelites are told to have a meal and smear blood on their doorsteps. The angel of God comes by each house and kills the first born of all the Egyptians, but spares the Israelites. So it’s a story about death and life. And what happens is that Pharaoh is so grieved he tells the Israelites they can leave Egypt and go to the holy land. They are no longer his slaves. It’s very important as it becomes one of the major feasts of the Jewish religious year and it’s a special meal people eat together." ( Exodus 11. 1-10)
The Jewish Calender is Luna not Solar. But the key date for Easter is the spring in the northern hemisphere, which falls between March 20-22. But they decided early on to take it from March 21 -- the time in the year when the amount of light and darkness in the 24 hours is exactly the same; 12 hours of light, 12 hours of darkness.
In other words, the dates of Easter are a matter of cosmic balance.
"Just like Christmas, nobody is suggesting that Jesus was crucified on that exact date. It's just become a date that church is comfortable with celebrating. But there is a connection with Easter and Passover. What happens is that Easter Sunday must always fall in the West, between March 22 and April 25th. This year is early, last year was late. The issue is when is the full moon is March 22 and it falls on a Sunday so that’s the earliest possible date Easter can be. The full moon doesn’t fall for a whole month after march 21st. Then Easter can be as late as April 25th," Professor Cusak said.
"So the eggs that are chocolate and Easter bunnies -- that's all a 19th century thing and these days most people don't remember that the Easter bunny was once the Easter hare. They're pretty similar to it doesn't really matter!"