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Making the connection between Easter and eggs

By Marge Neal

Sunday - 4/4/2010, 8:52am  ET

For Christians, Holy Week runs the gamut of emotions. The excitement of Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, celebrated on Palm Sunday, quickly gives way to untold grief when he is crucified. That grief in turn gives way to unbridled joy in celebration of Christ's resurrection.

So where, exactly, in this significant religious observation, do the Easter Bunny, colorful eggs and baskets filled with candy fit in?

While it would seem that Christ rising from the dead and a big, costumed rabbit aren't connected, there are threads that tie the two together.

Jesus' resurrection is a rebirth of sorts, and so too is the season of spring for the earth. The gray, dreary dormancy of winter gives way to the colorful explosion of trees, shrubs, flowers and other plant life as they begin a new cycle of life.

While most people can explain what Easter represents, they are at a loss for words when asked about the origins of the Easter Bunny and the egg hunt tradition.

LaDona Fetty, children's pastor at Calvary Assembly in Walkersville , laughed as she visualized the contradiction of a big rabbit hiding eggs in the grass while Christians are celebrating one of the holiest times of the year.

Calvary holds an annual egg hunt for the residents of Discovery, a community across the street from the church.

"I guess the egg represents and celebrates new life, just as Christ was reborn to new life," she said. "Like we die to our old sins and are reborn after we accept Jesus Christ as our savior."

She's a little less certain about how to explain the Easter Bunny.

"You know, I have no idea how he came to be," she said. "I'm not exactly sure what he's supposed to mean in all this."

As a child, her family had egg hunts, and she recalls those activities as a celebration of spring more than anything else.

Dianne McLean, who chairs the Thurmont Lions Club's annual egg hunt, was just as mystified about the tradition of the rabbit and eggs.

"I have no idea," she said of the origins of the Easter Bunny.

But she did offer a good guess.

"It probably stems from some pagan rituals," she said. "Christians don't want to believe it, but many of their practices are rooted in pagan ritual."

Many websites, including holidays.net, associatedcontent.com and phancypages.com, trace the nonreligious celebration of Easter to pagan practices.

Most accounts suggest the modern Easter Bunny sprang from pre-Christian fertility lore. The rabbit was the most fertile animal known, and it came to represent new life as spring emerged.

The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a festival honoring Eastre, their goddess of fertility, according to writer Arlene Wright-Correll, whose work appears on phancypages.com.

What we know as the Easter Bunny was first mentioned in Germany during the 15th century, according to associatedcontent.com. The rabbit was known as Osterhase, or Oschter Haws, in Germany, according to the website.

It is thought that Germans who settled in Pennsylvania brought their homeland's Easter tradition to the U.S. Tradition held that the bunny would lay brightly colored eggs for good children who made special nests in their caps or bonnets the night before Easter.

Both Fetty and McLean said their respective organizations hold the hunts each year as community outreach.

Many people help make the Lions Club event a success, McLean said. About 30 Thurmont Middle School students stuff 1,000 eggs with candy, about six Boy Scouts hide the eggs early on the day of the hunt, and 10 more adult volunteers help run the event.

A lot of preparation goes into an event that starts at 2 p.m. and is over in about 10 minutes, McLean said with a laugh.

"This is not a fundraiser for the club, there is no charge for children to participate," she said. "The Lions are very actively involved in the community, we do this strictly as a service to the town of Thurmont ."

Fetty said that Calvary reaches out to its neighbors because "it's all about building relationships."

While she agrees that, on the surface there seems to be little connection between an egg-hiding rabbit and the death and rebirth of the son of God, she also recognizes the appeal of the fun side of the holiday.

"At Discovery, we celebrate the real reason of Easter, and we have a prayer before the egg hunt," she said. "But the tradition is also about having fun; about having a good time. And the kids have a good time."

Working with and for each other, and looking out for others in the community, is "where the rubber hits the road," Fetty said.

"This isn't so much about the religious observation itself, it's about a relationship with Jesus Christ," the pastor said. "It's about doing for others."

Copyright 2010 The Frederick News-Post. All rights reserved.