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Greater Victoria anthropologist cracks open origins of Easter eggs, bunnies

Easter bunny may be linked to fertility, Camosun College instructor says
Camosun College anthropology instructor Nicole Kilburn has done a deep-dive to understand the origins of several iconic Easter symbols. (Courtesy of Camosun College)

While many who celebrate Easter may decorate chicken eggs and wait for bunnies to deliver them chocolate without question, a Greater Victoria anthropologist decided she needed answers to the seemingly strange traditions.

After a deep dive into the symbols, Camosun College instructor Nicole Kilburn found both sense and mystery.

Eggs, it turns out, have a long history of use for springtime celebrations. The earliest example Kilburn could find was from more than 3,000 years ago when Persian-speaking people began decorating them for their new year’s celebration feast tables, which fall at the start of spring. Kilburn thinks the Phoenicians were then inspired to do something similar, using ostrich eggs.

Some eastern European people also have a history of gifting naturally died chicken eggs to mark the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Kilburn said all the traditions likely use eggs to represent a time of birth and renewal. She suspects this is also the reason early Christian writers chose to tie Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection to springtime.

“Tying Easter celebrations to familiar, long-standing expressions of rebirth and renewal may have been a shrewd PR move on the part of early Christian writers, who thought it would be easier to believe the resurrection of Christ if it was tied to the tangible proof of rebirth offered by the natural world,” she said in a video explainer.

READ ALSO: QUIZ: How much do you know about Easter?

The Easter bunny is far greater of an enigma, though.

Kilburn said early depictions of rabbits in medieval manuscripts show them violently hurting people with swords or tree branches. The only answer she could find for how they turned from a menace into a children’s candy delivery system, is that rabbits are often linked to fertility.

Again, Kilburn believes, they may have served as a visual reminder of the renewal and birth springtime brings.

She also noted that bunnies are not synonymous with Easter everywhere. In Switzerland, they have the Easter cuckoo, while in Germany it is the Easter fox.

One thing that was clear to her is the recent history of commercialization. Perhaps surprisingly, Easter beats out Halloween as the No. 1 candy-selling holiday in North America.

Kilburn just hopes when people enjoy their chocolate eggs this year, they do so armed with a little more knowledge.

READ ALSO: Easter weekend events spread around Greater Victoria


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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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