Is the Easter Bunny Christian?
Before we get in to the meat of this post there’s one thing that must be said:
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…
I’ve addressed the issue of pagan tradition or the lack there of in Christianity before in my posts Problems with Pagans, Why Christians Don’t Celebrate Earth Day, and Gruß Vom Krampus. Similarly, Pastor Joseph Abrahamson over on the Steadfast Lutheran’s site writes a series called Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies. I don’t always agree with him as absence of evidence does not necessarily mean evidence of absence. I did appreciate his most recent post on Easter and the Christian roots of the name Easter, The Easter Egg and the Easter Bunny. It’s the Easter Bunny that always got me. I’d seen it used ad a christian symbol, and as a sign of the Trinity, but never really got it. I think that Pastor Abrahamson’s comments make sense:
So where did the bunny really come from?
According to Karl Joseph Simrok’s 1855 book called Handbuch Der Deutschen Mythologie Mit Einschluss Der Nordischen, “The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.” (page 551) The old 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia cites this as proof that Christians cannot use the rabbit in celebration of Easter. But I cannot find this sentence in my copy of Simrok’s book. Perhaps mine is a different edition.
What is interesting about the rabbit or hare is that it has been used by all kinds of religions around the world as a symbol. Each religion fitting its own teaching on the symbol of the rabbit. But in most cases the symbol refers to new life. In the ancient eastern Church the rabbit was used on tombstones and as a symbol of Christ. One author points out that some early Christians viewed the rabbit’s hole as a symbol of the tomb of Christ.
Probably the most complete and systematic study to date is actually Birgit Gehrisch’s Lepusculus Domini, Erotic Hare, Meister Lampe” Zur Rolle des Hasen in der Kulturgeschichte, Inaugural-Dissertaion zur Erlangun, VVB Laufersweiler Verlag, Wettenberg, Germany, 2005.
Christian art has several examples from the early times through the renaissance of rabbits as a symbol of Christ.
To name just a few The three hare window in Paderborn, Germany and also in the monastery Muottatal in Switzerland, where three rabbits are together in a triangle with only one ear each showing, symbolizing the Trinity…
Martin Schongauer’s 1470 engraving The Temptation of Jesus has three by three rabbits at the feet of Jesus Christ.
Hans Baldung Grien 1512-1516 painted the altar for the Freiburg Cathedral with the second panel representing Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth where he painted the rabbits about the feet of Mary and Elizabeth.
Titan’s Madonna and Child with St. Catherine and a Rabbit which was painted in 1530.
I picked these works of art because they are all pretty much pre-Reformation. They demonstrate that the rabbit or hare was used a symbol of Christ and the Resurrection before the time of the Reformation.
America owes the use of the Easter Bunny to the Pennsylvania Deutch settlers who came from Alsace, a German and French area on the border between the two countries. Back in 1678 Georg Franck von Frankenau in 1682 wrote against the excessive eating of Easter eggs which parents would leave in the name of the Easter Hare–the Resurrected Christ. The people from this region settled in Pennsylvania and brought with them their symbolism and traditions surrounding the hare representing Christ, the egg representing the tomb, and Christ’s resurrection with the giving and breaking of eggs when the fast of Lent was ended on Easter Sunday.
So, to answer the question “Is the Easter Bunny Christian? well… Look at the image at the top of this post. What could be more Christian than a bunny in a fez?
A circus perhaps?
Perhaps not Christian, but a lot of fun, and if you were looking for the Easter connection, in this sequence from “Lady in the Dark” Liza Elliot is trying to make up her mind as to which cover she wants for her magazine: the Easter cover or the circus cover. Didn’t you notice all the Easter eggs in the background; watching the circus?