It’s not the foolish hare who accepted a challenge for a race from that purposeful, determined tortoise. It’s not Br’er or Roger Rabbit either. It’s not Bambi’s pal, Thumper. It’s certainly not any of Hef’s scantily-clad nightclub employees. It’s not even that “Waskelly Wabbit” named Bugs from those Looney Tunes adventures. OK, so we know who he is NOT. But just who IS the Easter Bunny?
Well, as always seems to be the case, the customs and practices associated with modern holidays appear to date from societies and cultures of many hundreds, even thousands, of years ago.
Easter of course arrives in the early weeks of springtime and is primarily regarded as a Christian holiday. However, sociologists report that in as early as second century Northern Europe, the major celebration of the season was a Saxon fertility festival in honour of the Goddess Eostre, whose sacred animal was a hare or rabbit To this day, due undoubtedly to its proclivity for reproducing itself in great numbers, the rabbit is a symbol of renewal and rebirth for the season. Stories of the significant role of rabbits in various cultural traditions span the globe from the Hebrew feast of Passover, to the Mayan peoples of prehistoric America, to Africa and the Far East.
The origin of coloured Easter eggs may be even older. Ancient Romans and Greeks used eggs as symbols of renewal and rebirth upon the arrival of the Vernal Equinox. The tradition of painting eggs arose to signify the return of sunlight at springtime and later evolved to the Austrian, Polish and Ukrainian customs of ornate symbolic or bright, multi-coloured works of art with intricate designs. By the 1500s we find the first documented use of the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs. Germanic children who had prepared nests using their hats and bonnets received the gift of coloured eggs left by the Easter Bunny. By the eighteenth century North American German settlers had modified the job of the Easter Bunny. The Oschtar Haws rewarded good children by leaving a basket of coloured eggs and edible bunnies made of pastry and sugar. Later, this became gifts of chocolate and other sweets due to clever advertising campaigns by some very resourceful European candy makers.
But, even though we continue to reward (or perhaps bribe) our children for their behaviour, the ultimate Easter gift remains the private privilege of the adult set through the unparalleled artistry of a small group of Russian jewellery artisans. We speak of course of the Faberge Egg. The first egg was commissioned by Czar Alexander III as an Easter gift for his wife. Maria was so pleased with her present and the special secret inside; a Faberge Easter egg became an annual delight for the Czarina. The House of Faberge used the techniques of translucent enamelling combined with both precious and semi-precious stones to produce a total of fifty-six exquisite works of jewellery art for Czar Alexander and his successor Nicholas II prior to the Bolshevik Revolution.
Thus, this year, if you just happen to be a special friend of any of today’s Czars of Industry, be sure to check the kids’ Easter baskets very carefully. The locations of twelve of those original Faberge Eggs remain unknown. Peter Cottontail’s cousin, George (a rabbit of the snowshoe variety of course), will soon be hopping down the bunny trails throughout Collingwood beginning the weekend of April 6-9th.