The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 04-19-2003, 02:55 PM
Biotop Biotop is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: North Garden, VA
Posts: 2,190
Easter Bunny Question

Why is there no detailed generally recognized Easter Bunny story? When it comes to Santa Claus there's no shortage of widely accepted myth: reindeer, elves, North Pole, sleigh, red suit, chimney and on and on and on.

With the Easter Bunny, it's:

***
The bunny brings the eggs.
***

That's all. Some say the bunny is named Peter, but that's not accepted myth as far as I can tell. Also, as far as I know, there's no information about why the bunny brings the eggs, where the eggs come from, if there is a Mrs. Bunny, how he get in the house or even if you have to be a good kid to get the eggs.

Given our cultural love for this kind of thing, I find the lack of folklore detail more than a trifle odd. Is there some taboo on expanding the Easter Bunny story?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 04-19-2003, 02:58 PM
brianmelendez brianmelendez is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Posts: 1,193
Cecil speaks: What's the connection between Easter and rabbits?
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 04-19-2003, 03:00 PM
brianmelendez brianmelendez is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Minneapolis, Minn.
Posts: 1,193
And from snopes.com, Easter Lore:
Quote:
All manner of rabbits are said to lay eggs on Easter Day. The hare itself is revered in lore -- even in pre-Christian times, it was seen as a holy creature associated with fertility and the returning Spring. Important divinations about the character of the coming year were made from studying its movements. In northern Europe, the hare was considered sacred to Eastre, and therefore was not to be hunted.

The Easter Bunny is of German origin. He shows up in 16th century literature as a deliverer of eggs, in his own way a springtime St. Nicholas bent on rewarding the good. (Colored eggs were left only for well-behaved good children, you see.)

Eggs are very obvious symbols of resurrection and continuing life. Early humans thought the return of the sun from winter darkness was an annual miracle, and saw the egg as a natural wonder and proof of the renewal of life. The egg is also the ultimate symbol of fertility. As Christianity spread, the egg was adopted as a symbol of Christ's resurrection from the tomb (a hard casket from which new life will emerge).

For centuries, eggs were listed among foods forbidden during Lent, so having them at Easter was a special treat that marked the end of a lengthy period of self-denial. The candy Easter eggs of modern times hark back to eggs used for a more serious purpose. Hardboiled eggs were dyed red in memory of Christ's blood, then given to children as a talisman to preserve their health over the ensuing twelve months. This custom survived in slightly altered form almost until the present -- it wasn't that long ago one would find beautifully decorated Pace eggs kept year-round in British households for luck. The protective qualities of the scarlet-dyed egg are still invoked in parts of Europe to guard fields and vineyards from lightning and hail -- one of these eggs will be buried on the property for that purpose.

Eggs themselves have their own lore, applicable both at Easter and other times. Breaking the smaller end of the egg betokens only disappointment of one's hopes -- with that supposedly lying in store, it makes sense to smack it open at the larger end. The discovery of a double yolk within is cause for terror or celebration depending on which school of thought is followed -- some say it presages a wedding, others a death. Once the egg is consumed, its shell must be broken up lest a witch use it to gain power over the person who ate from it. A witch might also make a boat from an intact shell, then set sail in it and wreck ships at sea. Discarded eggshells should never be burned because doing so will cause the hens to cease to lay.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 04-19-2003, 03:40 PM
Biotop Biotop is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: North Garden, VA
Posts: 2,190
I understand the relationship between Easter, bunnies and eggs.

What I don't understand is why the Easter children's tale is so limited. It's a hard question to research why something hasn't happened, but for something as widespread as the Easter Bunny folklore, I don't see why the tale has not been expounded upon in our culture. Everyone knows the Easter Bunny. No one, as far as I can tell, knows very much about him. Why?
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 04-19-2003, 04:03 PM
Ice Wolf Ice Wolf is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Posts: 8,378
I believe that some commercial operators, such as Cadburys, are trying to rectify that lack of back-story as much as they can, Biotop, much as Coca Cola and department stores, etc., added to the Santa Claus mythos.

This cached page from Google asserts that there was some resistence in America between the German bunny and the English egg as to the right to be the true symbol of Easter (aside from the Christian story). Perhaps, because the bunny was just "Oschter Haws", and seemed backed by sufficient tradition at the time, no one thought to give him/her a family background, burrow location, describe where the eggs came from etc. Or, considering the fertility connotations, it might have been a tricky subject to discuss with the kiddies. Just a WAG.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 04-19-2003, 05:58 PM
Biotop Biotop is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: North Garden, VA
Posts: 2,190
Interesting stuff, Ice Wolf.

But I don't think the strictly commercial enterprises can do it alone. Christmas has so much to draw on for the enterprising marketer, but not Easter. For some reason, the Easter holiday has not prompted the massive non-commercial storytelling that the Christmas holiday seems to continue to produce with ease.

I became interested in this subject when I tried to put together an Easter music show for the public radio show I do here in Charlottesville. While every other pop music artist has recorded Christmas music, there is almost a void (outside of Christian Rock) when it comes to Easter. It seems that the Easter Bunny tale doesn't foster the creative interest that Santa Claus does (whether in music, movies, TV, poetry, children's literature, etc.). The same can be said for the bibical story, which hasn't inspired the fictional depth of the Christmas story (with some very notable exceptions).

The potential for pop-culture and children's Easter material is there, but for whatever reason it has been all but ignored by the non-commercial element. With little material to plunder, the Cadbury people have their work cut out for them.

Still, it seems with the heavily Christian leanings of Western culture, more material should be in existence. It's very odd to me that it is not.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 04-19-2003, 06:18 PM
Nametag Nametag is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: California
Posts: 7,705
1) The Easter story is a mixture of the Crucifixion, which is an extreme bummer and hard to make cute animated children's stories out of, and the Resurrection, which is heavy with mysticism, guilt, sin, and repentance, which also make for lousy children's programming (unless you're Ned Flanders). By comparison, the birth of the baby Jesus is cute stuff, and lends itself to adorable animals and scruffy shepherds and exotically clad magi or kings.

2) The Santa Claus, gift-giving, and tree business has been around so long, that no one in modern Christendom can imagine going without them, even though they have nothing to do with the Birth. The Easter bunny and the eggs are not so universal and not so celebrated, and trying to raise a nationwide secular Myth of the Easter Bunny would meet with considerable resistance.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 04-19-2003, 06:22 PM
Dogface Dogface is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 3,466
I'm surprised that nobody has brought up the old Rankin-Bass "funimation" Here Comes Peter Cottontail. It's guaranteed to turn ones mind to goo in no time, flat.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 04-19-2003, 06:32 PM
Ice Wolf Ice Wolf is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Posts: 8,378
You definitely have me quite intrigued by this apparent anomaly, Biotop.

I have another suggestion: could the solemnity of the Christian Easter in comparison with the slightly less solemn Saturnalia/Yuletide-related connections of Christmas have had an effect on the lack of traditional background and cultural references for Easter? In other words, the celebration connected with bringing the sun back in winter's darkness was of more importance than the fertility/renewal rites of spring?

(I'm going to avoid the more "new-age" assertion that Yuletide could be seen as masculine, while spring festivals around fertility are seen as more feminine, part of the Great Mother beliefs. Therein, I think, lies a mire too deep to get out from within the bounds of this forum.)
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 04-19-2003, 07:55 PM
Biotop Biotop is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: North Garden, VA
Posts: 2,190
I agree with the assertion from nametag that the crucifixion and the resurrection are not particularly good children's fare. However, it seems to me that complex adult culture usually produces intermediary material, often in the form of literature, folklore, and the arts. This intermediary material eventually leads (and must lead) to children's material when the original cultural material so heavily permeates the society. The themes in the crucifixion and resurrection should have, it seems to me, produced more secondary material with which to create children's stories (or pop culture music for that matter).

The Easter Bunny is known by virtually everyone in this country, and has been known for a long time. Ice Wolf provides a very helpful link indicating that rabbit-delivered eggs go back to at least the late 1800's in popular U.S. culture. The Easter Bunny myth must naturally lead to a lot of questions from children. Many of the Santa Claus stories so widely known today are not a whole lot older than the Easter Bunny myth. Yet we know all about the North Pole and Rudolph, but nothing about the other 364 days of the Easter Bunny and his possible helpers. And while I don't have kids myself, I'm betting a whole lot of them ask their parents for more details about the EB. The story should be there, and it's not!

Reverence and solemnity certainly play a major role in the limitation of Easter Bunny lore, but it's hard to understand how they've muzzled the legend so completely while still allowing the simple concept of the rabbit delivering the eggs to be so widespread. After all, why would a fleshing out of the Easter Bunny story be in any way sacrilegious?
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 04-19-2003, 08:24 PM
Ice Wolf Ice Wolf is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Posts: 8,378
Quote:
Originally posted by Biotop
Reverence and solemnity certainly play a major role in the limitation of Easter Bunny lore, but it's hard to understand how they've muzzled the legend so completely while still allowing the simple concept of the rabbit delivering the eggs to be so widespread. After all, why would a fleshing out of the Easter Bunny story be in any way sacrilegious?
Perhaps because Santa Claus, pretty well the centre of the Christmas festival nowadays, is an echo back to the Three Wise Men travelling far to give gifts to baby Jesus. Whereas -- the bunny is some kind of strange egg-laying beastie, or a possible egg-thief. An egg alone is a symbol of rebirth and renewal of life. That fits in nicely with the Christian tradition. But -- that wascally wabbit is a bit hard to fit in with anything other than the promise of fecundity among the beasts in the field.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 04-19-2003, 09:39 PM
elelle elelle is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Eggsactly. Ice Wolf. And it's important that the Bunny, albeit morphed, is an animal representation, instead of a human. Spring brings about feelings of rebirth on it's own, not much intellectual prodding needed. Rabbits and eggs suffice, everyone's pretty damn happy winter is over, and everyone gets the natural gist of things.

To get a force of festiveness beyond harvest time takes a bit more work, at least in the colder climes. A friendly fellow, bearing gifts, overlayed on the birth of a Saviour in the grim time of winter takes advantage of a whole 'nother mindset. It's a natural time of duress, and prone to more reflective thought, perhaps desperation. And the time one might be wanting to see some light. Those feelings would be more in need of a festival, and more easily manipulated toward those seking relief.So, lots of folderol and promise in order to get over winter.

Basically, the Easter Bunny don't need no helpers. Nature takes her Humdinging course!
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 04-20-2003, 02:07 AM
Sternvogel Sternvogel is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Re: Easter Bunny Question

Quote:
Originally posted by Biotop
Is there some taboo on expanding the Easter Bunny story?
Apparently not -- check out such entries as
The First Easter Bunny and The Bunny Who Found Easter on this page.

My WAGs concerning the Easter story's failure to "catch on" commercially:

1) Christmas falls on the same date each year, and is preceded about a month earlier by Thanksgiving, a convenient "kickoff" to the "holiday season" in which even secular residents of "Christian" societies typically partake to some extent. Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday, and Christmas only falls on the weekend about twice every seven years. Both celebrations are thus usually days off from work or school. Easter is a "moveable feast", and thus "sneaks up" on those who don't regularly (if ever) attend churches in which the Resurrection is celebrated. Yet it's always a Sunday, so there's no attendant joy of playing hooky from mundane obligations.

2) In temperate Northern Hemisphere climates, the Yuletide weather is often indeed frightful, and thus conducive to such indoor activities as watching TV specials and waiting in line for Santa. Around Easter, kids (and many grownups) want to take advantage of the balmy (and comparatively "longer") days by playing baseball, planting flowers, etc. Less patience for listening to endless musical tributes to the season, watching the equivalent of numerous permutations of A Christmas Carol, etc.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 04-20-2003, 02:42 AM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
When I was little, I had a children's book about the Easter Bunny. It was in English, but now that I think of it, it was almost certainly translated from German. I remember that it gave a relatively extensive background of the Bunny, where he got his eggs from, why they are painted, and why children get them. Whether the author was relating authentic German myths or just making the stuff up, I'm not sure. Perhaps if anyone else remembers having this book and knows the title, I'll try getting hold of it and then interrogate some Germans about it.
__________________
A cat is for when you don't hate yourself enough and need a small mammal to help.
nothingisreal.com
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 04-20-2003, 06:13 AM
ChalkPit ChalkPit is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Another theory...

I'm surprised there has been no mention of the Rabbit in the Moon.

As well as there being a Man in the Moon, there is rabbit, in a lying position.

The ears are formed by Mare Fecunditatis & Mare Nectaris with the face in Mare Serenitatis, the main body is Mare Imbrium and Oceanus Procellarum and his tail Mare Nubium.

Since the date of Easter is tied to the phase of the Moon, this is where the Easter Rabbit came from in the first place.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 04-20-2003, 12:02 PM
Dogface Dogface is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 3,466
Quote:
Originally posted by Ice Wolf

I have another suggestion: could the solemnity of the Christian Easter in comparison with the slightly less solemn Saturnalia/Yuletide-related connections of Christmas have had an effect on the lack of traditional background and cultural references for Easter? In other words, the celebration connected with bringing the sun back in winter's darkness was of more importance than the fertility/renewal rites of spring?

The celebration of Christmas, that is, the history of this celebration, is another matter of the difference between Western vs. Eastern Christianity. In Eastern Christianity, it is Pascha/Pesah/Passover/Easter (all are the same) that is the center of the liturgical calendar. It is also the biggest Liturgy, the biggest preparation, and the biggest officially Church-sanctioned party (as much as the Church might approve of a party) on the calendar. Christmas is given far less recognition, only slightly more than the Dormition of the Theotokos.

Easter is the older holiday. Christians were celebrating the Resurrection well before there was a Church-wide official celebration of the Nativity, and in the East, the Annunciation is given nearly as much attention as is the actual Nativity. Theologically, it makes more sense to emphasize Easter.

However, the Western emphasis upon Christmas is not theologically based. It is historical and cultural. In Levantine cultures, the great festivals were almost always associated with the Vernal Equinox, like Passover. In the Western Empire, the big festivals were associated with the Winter Solstice.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 04-20-2003, 12:05 PM
Dogface Dogface is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 3,466
Quote:
Originally posted by Biotop
I agree with the assertion from nametag that the crucifixion and the resurrection are not particularly good children's fare. However, it seems to me that complex adult culture usually produces intermediary material, often in the form of literature, folklore, and the arts. This intermediary material eventually leads (and must lead) to children's material when the original cultural material so heavily permeates the society. The themes in the crucifixion and resurrection should have, it seems to me, produced more secondary material with which to create children's stories (or pop culture music for that matter).
The Easter Bunny is NOT UNIVERSAL TO ALL OF CHRISTIAN COUNTRIES!!!! Likewise, Eastern Christianity gives far greater emphasis to Pascha than to Nativity, as do most of those countries that were part of Eastern Christendom--until the infestation of modern American mental viruses of the late 20th century.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 04-20-2003, 05:39 PM
Biotop Biotop is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: North Garden, VA
Posts: 2,190
Quote:
Originally posted by Dogface
The Easter Bunny is NOT UNIVERSAL TO ALL OF CHRISTIAN COUNTRIES!!!!
Agreed, Dogface. However, it is obvious to anyone who has been in a shopping mall during the last two months that in the U.S. the Easter Bunny is about as well known as a fictitious celebrity can be. I can think of no other examples where a fictional character is so recognizable and marketable with as little biographical background as the EB. It's really an interesting and unique example from a sociological point of view, IMHO.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 04-20-2003, 08:25 PM
Chronos Chronos is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 54,562
Of course, Santa (in the form recognized by Americans) isn't exactly international, either.

I think that the lack of development of the Easter Bunny is probably due primarily to how much less-celebrated Easter is than Christmas. For instance, kids will typically get at least two weeks off for Christmas, possibly as long as a month. But for Easter, you're likely to see a week off, or a single day, or nothing at all. And that right there is a reason (for kids, at least) to celebrate Christmas more than Easter.

It might also be a matter of anticipation and surprise. Both Santa and the Easter Bunny bring goodies, true, but you don't know what Santa's going to bring. A train? A robot? A computer game? But the Easter Bunny is pretty predictable: A chocolate rabbit, chocolate eggs, jelly beans, and marshmallow chicks. Mind you, no kid is going to complain about chocolate and marshmallow, but it's not nearly as much fun without the element of surprise.
__________________
Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.
--As You Like It, III:ii:328
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 04-21-2003, 07:36 AM
Biotop Biotop is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: North Garden, VA
Posts: 2,190
Quote:
Originally posted by Chronos
Mind you, no kid is going to complain about chocolate and marshmallow, but it's not nearly as much fun without the element of surprise.
My girlfriend summed it up pretty well last night. "When you get free chocolate, why ask questions?"
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 01:35 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.