How did rabbits and colored eggs come to be associated with Easter, the most significant holy day of the year for Christians? To get the answer to that question one needs to go back in time. Imagine yourself on earth before digital, before refractory lenses, before watches. Go way back to when people watched nature to gain some understanding of what was to come.
Envision what it must have been like to watch the days become shorter and darker and not have any idea of what was happening or how long it would last. It’s easy to see how it would be possible to fear the sun was burning out! Then think about how elated people would be when they figured it out. When they observed, and began to record, repeating patterns… the Equinox and the Solstice.
The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year and occurs in December. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and occurs in June. The equinox also occurs twice a year. It occurs when the number of hours of daylight are equal to the number of hours of darkness. As you would expect, the Equinox is a predictor of what’s to come. In the Spring (hooray!) the cold will be coming to an end. Time to plant, fish, and hunt. In the Fall, the Autumn Equinox indicates the time to stock up. Salt the fish, and dry the meat, the cold days are coming.
In Roman times, before Christ, the Pagans (from the Latin, paganus meaning country dweller, villager, or hick) celebrated these natural repeating patterns in a big way. In the Spring the Equinox would be celebrated as a renewal of life. To the Pagans the egg was a symbol of the renewal of life. Eggs were presented to friends as gifts in celebration of Spring. Rabbits, baby chicks, and new fresh green grass were all signs of Spring and new beginnings.
That is what Easter, rabbits, and colored eggs have in common. The Spring Equinox! In 325 AD, at the Council of Nicaea, which was the first major church council, it was decided the celebration of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, would be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.
Since that time, the celebration of the resurrection of Christ has been in the Spring very near the Spring Equinox. As a part of celebrating the resurrection, we go to church, we color and gift eggs, we line baskets with grass, and we devour our chocolate rabbits.
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