As a child, I couldn’t understand why Easter never fell at the same time of the year like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Squirrel Appreciation Day (Jan 21st, in case you want to store some nuts for next year).
On top of that, there was all the hype about an Easter rabbit. As a rather gullible child, I eventually accepted the existence of an egg-delivering benevolent bunny since it seemed to rationalize why Easter hopped all over the spring calendar from year to year.
Then there was Lent – the period leading up to Easter – which a school chum convinced me was a time we were morally obliged to lend money to friends who asked for it.
So when my buddy asked, I lent.
But as I was later informed by the same crafty kid, if you neglected to demand your money back before Easter Sunday, you lost it.
I lost it.
After a scolding from my parents for being so easily swindled, they attempted to clarify Easter’s mysteries. This included explaining that it fell on “the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox” which wasn’t entirely helpful to a 7-year-old.
But back to rabbits. Their association with Easter seemed dubious because I could see no obvious religious connection. After all, there were no biblical references to rabbits used for burnt offerings; scriptures were devoid of a Passover Bunny; and nowhere were multitudes fed with five loaves and two pots of rabbit stew.
Fortunately, Easter traditions became clearer as I grew. I learned that the Easter bunny pre-dates Christian times and was part of spring festivals held by ancient civilizations to honor pagan gods. And since rabbits were known for their prodigious reproduction, they were natural symbols of rebirth and new life.
Another youthful Easter puzzle was the connection between rabbits and eggs. Rabbits don’t lay eggs, no matter how much you encourage them. Reptiles do, but my suggestion to introduce an enchanting Easter iguana never caught on.
The rabbit-egg association, I would eventually learn, dates back centuries to Europe. It seems German children believed that a magical, generous rabbit laid eggs in the grass, and that these were free for the taking. Decorating and coloring eggs goes back even further – thousands of years.
Which brings to mind an old Martha Stewart TV segment where the lifestyle guru wryly claimed that feeding chickens with colored fruits or vegetables could produce colored eggs.
“Interesting,” I remember thinking at the time, as I raced out the door to buy beet juice to test the theory on our own hens.
“Still gullible, huh?” mocked my wife, pointing out on my return that the show was broadcast on April 1.
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns,
and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers.