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Hare-raising tales

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 10:00 UK time, Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Why do we associate Easter with rabbits and eggs?

I'll get to that shortly but let's get you warmed up first, with a few facts about Easter.

Christ was said to have been resurrected on the 'third day' - two days after being crucified and Christians celebrate this on Easter Sunday (two days after Good Friday).

A council of Christian bishops got together in Nicea in Bithynia (Turkey) in 325 A.D. and came up with the idea of celebrating Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon - just to keep us all on our toes and wondering exactly when Easter is, each year.

Just in case you were wondering, this year - it's on Monday, 5 April.

Easter is celebrated under many different guises in many different religions and cultures. Our interpretation of the word is said to have come from the Anglo-Saxon word - Eastre, Eostre or Eoaster.

The name refers to Eostur-monath, a month in the Germanic calendar when feasts were held in honour of the Pagan goddess - Eostre.

This and other Pagan rituals such as Hallowee'n were cleverly merged with Christian festivals by Emperor Constantine in order to keep both the Pagans and Christians happy and keep his popularity high.

So, why do we associate Easter with rabbits and eggs?

Painted eggs:


The general consensus is that rabbits come from Pagan symbolism - representing fertility and new growth which accompanies the spring equinox - and as we all know, rabbits are excellent breeders, so that's the rabbits taken care of...

The eggs are a bit trickier though as rabbits don't lay eggs - not in Wales anyway.

You have to go on a bit of a leap of faith for the next bit and why not - it's Easter after all.

Rabbits bear a striking resemblance to hares which incidentally give birth above ground and not underground in burrows. The young hares are known as leverets.

Once born, leverets lay hidden in long grassland at the edges of fields, to avoid detection from predators such as buzzard and fox.

They lie perfectly camouflaged and motionless, often sharing the same ground with lapwing who adopt a similar technique for their own eggs and young.

It's therefore possible that people assumed hares actually laid eggs as both are found in the same place!

So there we have it - our ancient ancestors who were capable of building complex Neolithic stone structures which aligned perfectly with major astronomical events such as the summer and winter solstice, assumed that hares laid eggs.

I don't know about you, but I for one, am a little disappointed.

A family of rabbits pause to consider the possibility of laying some eggs. Image by Ken Bray:


I've just had another thought - perhaps this is where the idea of Easter egg hunts originates?

After all, the lapwing eggs would be fairly difficult to find, hidden in the long grasses. I could be onto something here...

Interestingly, the first references to the 'Easter bunny' originate from around 1620 in the Alsace region on the French/German border - where half of all French beer is brewed, which explains quite a lot!

Just don't ask me about the chocolate. I've no idea.



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