Easter, Eostre, and Gifts from Benevolent Strangers

Receiving a basket filled with candy and colored eggs on Easter morning is a tradition many families follow.  There are no ties to anything in the bible about a benevolent rabbit. You may also have heard about a goddess called Oestre for whom Easter is named but there isn’t a clear line on that one either. The connection between a goddess called Oestre and the holiday named Easter is tentative at best. The most recent research I could find regarding this goddess was presented in 2007 by Dr. Philip A. Shaw.

Over time, the tentative connections that researchers were able to glean from literature written by Bede somehow started being presented as irrefutable facts. They are not. According to Dr. Shaw, there was probably a goddess in a small part of Europe that was worshipped as nature’s resurrection after the death of winter. She did not bring anyone chocolate. She was probably part of a polytheistic culture that varied throughout the region. What we don’t know is how widely this goddess was celebrated. Keep in mind, early people were not jetsetters. Most people lived and died in a small community and while the tribes were often in conquest mode, not everyone participated. Even the notion of paganism is a broad brush to paint with since it covered so many groups in so many places over time and wasn’t a concrete set of beliefs.

So, who brings presents and treats in the springtime?

 In Iran is Amu Nowruz and his companion, Haji Firuz (sound familiar?) Amu is depicted as an elderly silver-haired man who brings gifts to children and his companion wears red and has his hands and face covered in soot.

In the United States, the Easter Bunny (originally called the Easter Hare) almost certainly came to us from the Pennsylvania Dutch (German speaking immigrants in the 1600s)

In some parts of the world, including western Germany, there is an Easter fox. The origins were hard to track down and sketchy at best but it seems at some point, folks brought a fox from house to house seeking donations for some sort of celebration or sacrifice.

In a small region in central Germany, since the 17th century, a stork brings Easter eggs on the Thursday before Easter (Maundy Thursday) Bakeries make a yeast-based sweet bread in the shape of a stork decorated with colored sugar. Some variations include a colored egg emerging from the stork as if it is being laid.

In parts of France, the bells in the church towers fly away in the days before Easter (Maundy Thursday or Holy Friday, I find resources citing both) and return on Saturday night or early Sunday morning to distribute chocolates all over town before settling back into their towers.

In Australia, conservationists are trying to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby, an endangered species. Rabbits are an invasive species in Australia and while bilbies also have tall ears, they are a marsupial. Several candy manufacturers produce chocolate bilbies and donate proceeds to conservation efforts.

No matter who brings the goods, Easter is the second biggest candy consuming holiday in the United States. Halloween is #1.

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