Who Is This Easter Bunny?

By Thursday, April 2, 2015 6 3

It’s that time of year again! The time when I get completely confused by societal traditions we somehow think are totally normal!  The tradition this time of year? The muthah-friggin Easter Bunny.  I mean, what? We are a weird people, people.  What does a secretive and kind of creepy bunny who defies the laws of nature by laying eggs have to do with the resurrection of Jesus? There is no mention of Easter celebration, Easter eggs, or the Easter bunny anywhere in the Bible, so where did it come from? Just like my Santa Claus confusion, I had to do the research to get to the bottom of this trippy bunny trail (epic pun! virtual high five!).

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, Easter, easter bunny

Research on this topic was somewhat unfulfilling because it’s not entirely clear where most of our Easter traditions come from.  That’s right, there is no definitive consensus.  What is clear is that most of the traditions we associate with Easter have nothing to do with Jesus or Christianity at all, and most seem to be truly pagan (the heathens strike again!).  Allow me to explain.

Spring Fling

The return of spring has long been a season for celebration, probably since we were weird little amoebas.  Pretty much every ancestral culture has a history of celebrating the end of winter, usually kicked off by the Vernal Equinox on March 21.  The Vernal Equinox is the day when the amount of day and the amount of night are equal.  It’s exciting because from that day on there will be more light and less dark.  Sayonara Snowmaggedon.

Spring is a time for life, birth, and fertility.  To celebrate, many ancient traditions honored common symbols of spring: rabbits, due to their stellar reputations as prolific makers of babies (a female rabbit can get pregnant while she’s already pregnant. A little, uh, loose of you, rabbit girls); and eggs, a globally-shared, long-held symbol of fertility and birth.

The most widely accepted theory on the origin of the word “Easter” is that it was derived from Eostre, the Germanic goddess of dawn, spring, and fertility.  The Anglo-Saxons would celebrate Eostre’s return every spring, honoring her symbols, the rabbit and the egg, and coloring eggs to express appreciation for Eostre’s gift of abundance.

There is suspiciously little written about this goddess, however.  In fact, she is only officially mentioned once by one English monk and historian, St. Bede, in an 8th century book.  He wrote that Ēosturmōnaþ (‘Month of Ēostre’ in Old English), was a time to celebrate a goddess of spring and fertility he called Eostre.  And that’s pretty much it.  No one else talks about her in any other book, before or contemporary to Bede.  Because of this, some theorize that Bede simply made Eostre up as a joke, which would make part of me really happy because that would mean this entire megaholiday came from a few flippant lines written by one man.

Over time, the basic legend of Eostre evolved wildly.  There are many different versions of the legend, but it essentially says that one year Eostre arrived late for spring and to make up for it she saved a bird who was partially frozen by snow.  The bird could no longer fly so Eostre turned it into a rabbit (her earthly symbol), but retained its ability to lay colored eggs (her other earthly symbol), which it did in her honor and gave to children.  And here we have one theory on the origin of the Easter Bunny.  To be continued later…

What is amazing to me is that this whole thing — the origins of the word Easter, the existence of the goddess Eostre, her turning a bird into a bunny, and possibly the Easter Bunny himself — may have been completely fabricated by single individuals with some sweet imaginations.

I love this stuff!

What Came First: the Rabbit or the Egg?

The tradition of dyeing Easter eggs and giving candy eggs has a few origin theories:

  1. To honor the mysterious Eostre’s bird-turned rabbit that laid brightly colored eggs that were given to children.
  2. As mentioned before, eggs, along with rabbits, were widespread symbols of new life and fertility found in many pre-Christian cultures around the globe.  There are many, many old customs that involve decorating eggs and giving them as gifts around the Vernal Equinox.  Eggs were boiled with flowers and other materials to change their color to bring spring into the home.
  3. Decorating eggs are seen by many Christians as a symbol of Jesus’ empty tomb and thus His resurrection, and some dyed eggs red to symbolize Jesus’ spilt blood.

So what came first, the rabbit or the egg? My opinion is that since so many cultures, including as old as the Egyptians, Persians, and Romans, all used eggs as symbols of spring, this pagan rabbit came before the Christian egg.  Research shows that the association between Easter, eggs, and Jesus’ empty tomb came in the 15th century when Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Germany.  It seems very likely, and very natural, that the tradition merged with already ingrained pagan traditions.

Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Hat

As mentioned earlier, the rabbit was a symbol of fertility and celebrated at the start of spring by many ancient cultures.  Regardless of whether Eostre was a fabricated goddess or not, these animals were always associated with spring festivals and what came to be Easter.

At some point, the Germans took the pagan fertility rabbit, probably smashed with the legend of Eostre, and turned it into Oschter Haws (“Easter Hare”), a hare that lay a nest of colored eggs for good children.  The first mention of Oschter Haws was in the 1600s and when the Pennsylvania Dutch settled in America in the 1700s, they brought the hare with them.  Over time, Oschter Haws evolved into the Easter Bunny and now he’s in a photo booth in a mall near you!

Just like they did with Santa Claus, the Germans took a pagan character to the next level (what were the Germans smoking back then? Impressive imaginations).  Same as the history of Santa in the United States, the Puritans rejected this pagan character for a long time and it wasn’t until the mid 1800s that it was widely adopted, celebrated, and incorporated into Christian traditions.  And just like Santa Claus, the original purpose of the bunny was to bribe children into good behavior with the threat of no candy since apparently candy is somewhat important to children.

The Resurrection of Easter

After all this research, it is clear that the Easter Bunny and Jesus’ resurrection are totally unrelated.  They are two separate celebrations.  And so maybe we can’t thank Jesus for Cadbury Eggs, but we can still thank God or Eostre or the Vernal Equinox or weird fertility bunnies or whatever you honor for the start of spring.

For me, the fact that Easter is the amalgamation of pagan traditions, Christian traditions, and maybe even certain individuals complete fabrications doesn’t do it any disservice.  I think it gives it even more depth.  Celebrating the beginning of spring is reason enough for feasting, pastel party dresses, and jelly beans.

And that makes me so very — don’t do it, Sunna — egg-cited. *groan*  For Peeps sake!

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, The Pecking Orders, pecking orders, Easter, peeps

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Our traditions are much stranger and mishmashed than they appear. They began rooted in nature, hobnobbed with religion, and ended covered in chocolate. It seems that the Germans have not only provided us with delicious beers and brats, but also two of our most celebrated holiday characters. And let’s just forget about that one guy with the mustache…

<- Home

Sign up for my cool mailing list!

This MailChimp shortcode is now deprecated. Please insert the new shortcode to display this form.

This Can Be Your Year

By Thursday, January 1, 2015 0 4

Things They Forgot to Mention, Happy New Years, New Years, Resolutions

Well, hello again, New Year.  How are you here already? Clearly 2014 canceled a few months because it went by faster than what Einstein would find legal.  I was hoping for a little more quality time with 2014 but here you are, 2015, staring at me with your arms crossed in expectation.

Your first day is always so intimidating; it’s seductive in its freshness yet melancholy in its retrospect.  You make me paraphrase John Lennon while humming this with only minor heart palpitations:

So this is 2015 and what have you done?

Another year over, and a new one just begun.

Today is the most overt line in the sand you get.  It’s an undeniable request to look at that line, to examine the sand, to see if there are any amendments you would like made.

Today also tends to make you feel like a loser.  You can’t help but remember this time last year and all the stuff you said you were going to do, the long list that remains unchecked.  Your palms get sweatier, the tick of the clock gets louder, and the unfinished list gets shoutier.

There is a phrase called the “normative power of the actual” which essentially says that whatever exists, seems right.  It is used most often in the context of legal precedence and how that which is law generates a sense that it should be law, that it’s correct because we’re used to it.

As part of the human experience, we are all too familiar with this concept.  Whatever way we are living seems right.  We are creatures of routine and comfort.  Our habits are carved slowly like grooves on a vinyl record.  We go round and round, the grooves getting deeper, their paths more permanent.

The song your vinyl makes sounds fine to you because it’s the background music of your life.  It’s soothing because you know it.  It seems right because it exists.  But, it’s hard to truly hear your music when you are the one making it.  Maybe the grooves you carved don’t suit you anymore.  Maybe you really want to play a different song.  Maybe smooth jazz should be out and hip-hop should be in.  Days like today help you stop and really listen.

I’ve been waiting to do a lot of things my entire life.  I suffered from a common affliction I call the mañana factor: “Mañana (tomorrow) I’ll do that, it doesn’t feel right today.”  For years I waited for so many things.  I justified the inaction because I was “waiting” therefore it felt out of my hands.  I wasn’t ready, the time wasn’t right, it seems hard, so-and-so has to do this-and-that first, blah blah blah.

What I finally realized was I was waiting for me.  Just me.  I was the only piece missing.  I was waiting for me to show up to break free of the normative power of my actual.  It finally registered that life is entirely up to me, no one else can get me the life I want, and no one else can make my grooves.  That is the harsh reality of growing up.  I am responsible for everything that happens or doesn’t happen to me; no one else gets credit or blame.

We all need to remember that life is happening now.  Like, right NOW now.  The more you delay, the deeper the grooves in your vinyl record.  You only get this one record so make it play the song you want, the music you deserve, the life that is you.

So, let’s say goodbye to 2014.  Let’s do it with pride and with respect.  Let’s remember all the things we did last year that made us wonderful.  Let’s think of all the things we want to do this year to make us even more wonderful.  Let’s try to forget we probably had a very similar list last year.  And, let’s really do it this time.  Go Team!

Here are a few motivations that may induce helpful panic attacks:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, inspiration

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, inspirationAnd one final quote that seems to contradict the last quote, but actually it doesn’t at all.  I’ll leave it up to you to decipher them:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, inspiration, buddha

Happy New Year, lovies!

Things They Forgot to Mention:

A new year isn’t entirely new.  It takes with it all of the years before.  But you don’t have to take it all with you.  Your new year is waiting for you to show up and tell it where to go.

<- Home

Sign up for my cool mailing list!

This MailChimp shortcode is now deprecated. Please insert the new shortcode to display this form.

The True Meaning of Christmas, Part II

By Thursday, December 18, 2014 0 4

If you haven’t read Part I, please do so now before continuing.  I’ll wait…

I left us last week when Christmas was a drunken Mardi Gras, opposed by many Christians, and barely resembled the holiday we celebrate today.  Before Christmas became something we would recognize, we must add the third element: Mr. Claus.

 

Here Comes Santa Claus, Here Comes Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas was a Greek bishop who lived in the 4th century in what is now Turkey.  He gave away a substantial inheritance to help the poor and sick, and he was widely revered for his generosity and piety.

Most famous was when he saved three sisters from being forced into prostitution.  He secretly paid their dowry by throwing bags of gold coins into their home — one went down the chimney and another landed in a pair of stockings hanging to dry.  This is where our chimney and stockings tradition comes from.  While gifts arriving via chimney was common for many pagan figures like trolls, fairies, and Norse gods; it was also part of St. Nicholas’ legacy.

During the Middle Ages, the anniversary of St. Nicholas’ death on December 6th was celebrated and children were given gifts in his honor.  In the 16th century, Martin Luther, whose Protestant reform work led to the Lutherans, wanted to increase children’s interest in Jesus, so he sought to change the custom of gifts coming from St. Nicholas to gifts coming from Jesus.  Then the transformation of St. Nick really started…

Over time, St. Nicholas morphed with England’s Father Christmas, a character symbolizing the spirit of Christmas joy, and he became known as Santa Claus (the name evolved from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas).  Santa Claus also took on shades of Odin, the Norse god celebrated during the yule with a long white beard and an eight-legged horse he rode through the night sky delivering gifts.

The Santa Claus celebration moved to December 25th, and the gift tradition remnant from St. Nicholas and Odin was continued to remind people of the gifts the three magi brought baby Jesus.

All the pieces were now there: Yuletide/Winter Solstice + Jesus’ birth + Santa Claus.  We just had to revise.

 

It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas

In the 1800s, the upper class had had enough of Christmas.  Many Christmas traditions were pretty crappy for wealthy people as they involved mobs of drunk men prowling the streets, breaking things, and going door to door demanding food and alcohol.  Definitely doesn’t sound like a holiday families could get on board with.  “Children, gather ’round and look at the drunken throngs of dudes damaging property! A Merry Christmas to us all!” said no one ever.

A movement started to domesticate Christmas, to take it inside the home, to give it meaning, and to give it to children.  In 1843, Charles Dickens played a large role in revising Christmas when he wrote A Christmas Carol and the Christmas he described was an intimate family celebration of generosity and reflection.  Santa Claus fit right in with this Christmas revision and the New York elite latched onto him.

Santa further matured with the help of two New Yorkers:

  1. In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, a professor, wrote The Night Before Christmas for his daughters and almost single-handily created a modern Santa and a secular Christmas (click here for the poem).  He added even more Odin to Santa when he took Odin’s eight-legged horse and changed it to eight reindeer (Rudolph was envisioned 100 years later by a Montgomery Ward employee as a marketing ploy).
  2. In 1863, Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, was commissioned to illustrate Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly.  Over the next decade, his Santa series changed Santa into a tall, plump man with a white beard.  He also gave us the North Pole, the workshop, the elves, Mrs. Claus, the letters from children, and the naughty and nice list.

Now we had our jolly Santa, and after a Coca-Cola ad in the 1930s where Santa wore a red suit with white trim, we had his outfit.

Christmas, Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, Santa, Santa Claus, Coca-Cola

Although many churches were historically opposed to Christmas and the new Santa Claus, they found Santa, gift giving, the pagan traditions of the Christmas tree and caroling improved church attendance.  So, they adopted them full force.  According to the St. Nicholas Center, “in a strange twist of fate, the new ‘secular’ Santa Claus…helped return Christmas observance to churches.”

 

Silent Night, Holy Night

What I found so interesting in the history of Christmas was how single individuals had such large impacts, how many minds it took to craft this holiday, and how it reflects our culture throughout history.

But, in writing this story, I started to feel like Scrooge Mc(Lame)Duck.  I felt like I was taking something beautiful and trying to prove it wasn’t beautiful simply because it was made of stuff found on earth and not given to us from above.  This would not stand so I went back to the essence of Christmas and I found it unchanged.

Yes, we created Christmas from unrelated traditions, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful.  The things we create reflect the things we value, and with Christmas we value family, generosity, reflection, antiquity, and the high fashion in Wham’s Last Christmas.  After my research, Christmas reminded me even more of the people that came before me, of the light that is bigger than me.  The imaginations of our ancestors can be seen all over our traditions.  They are still there celebrating with us, reminding us to look up.

Do we lie to our children about Christmas? Yes.  Why? Because Christmas gives magic to them and that magic, while fleeting, stays with us for the rest of our lives.  We’ll always remember kneeling on our beds, whispering with our siblings, scanning the dark sky for Santa.  Christmas tells us there is beauty in our imaginations.  It tells us it’s ok to think beyond what is logical, to go beyond ourselves, to look into the dark for the light that is waiting.  That is what the yuletide and winter solstice revered.  That is what St. Nicholas sought.  That is Jesus’ birth.  And that, to me, is Christmas.

Christmas, Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, yule, yuletide, tree

(Sources: I spent way too much time on Wikipedia, the History Channel website, and multitudes of religious websites for this information.  If you want backing, ask and ye shall receive.)

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Christmas was built from the minds of our ancestors and is a beautiful reflection of our cultures changing and melding throughout history.  It reminds us to keep imagining, searching for the unknowns out your window, and never forgetting to look up.

<- Home



The True Meaning of Christmas, Part I

By Thursday, December 11, 2014 0 6

Similar to Easter, Christmas causes me much confusion.  It seems to be a mishmash of several unrelated traditions all jammed into one that mostly revolves around buying things, eating chocolate, and lying to children.  I’ve always been confused about how Jesus, Santa Claus, and yule logs have anything to do with each other, so I did a little research.  I found out so much interesting information that this will be a two part series, to be finished next week.  And you can guarantee I’ll be doing the same research when Easter comes around.

I started by writing a list of questions I have about Christmas, which was a hilarious  process since it became quite clear that I don’t understand this holiday at all.  Who is this Santa Claus and why does he have so many aliases (St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas)? What does he have to do with Jesus? Is it wrong that there is a globally sanctified lie we tell our children? When did the flying reindeer and elfin sweatshops come into play? Why is Santa the only person besides certain pimps that can say “ho ho ho”? Is Santa immortal? What is a “yule”?????

I feel I should disclose that I am no Scrooge.  My husband laughs at the magnitude of my Christmas joy.  I am literally listening to Christmas carols as I write this.  My ringtone is “Carol of Bells” this month.  Oh yes, I love Christmas.  Christmas to me is magical, intimate, and feels sacred and heavy with emotion.  It reminds me of the quiet found only in winter that seems ancient and aware.  There is something about this time of year that makes my cells ache for the line of humanity that made me, for the light that is bigger than me.  I love Christmas.  A lot.  Yet our traditions make no sense to me.

From my research, I learned that my Christmas confusion was warranted.  Christmas is essentially the merging of (at least) three separate celebrations with very different meanings:

  1. Yuletide/Winter Solstice
  2. Jesus’ birth
  3. Santa Claus

If you step back and delve deep into the traditions, they don’t seem to make sense combined together.  At first.  But when you look deeper, they have the same basic root: a celebration of life and light.

 

The Yule. The What? The Yule.

Let’s begin with the yuletide.  This is a pagan festival originating in Germany and Scandinavia that celebrated midwinter and winter solstice.  Heathens celebrated this, you guys, heathens!  The yuletide honored the sun and the lengthening of days that starts on winter solstice; it was a celebration of birth and the end of darkness.

The yuletide was celebrated for varying amounts of time between November and January, centered around the winter solstice, December 21.  There was a lot of ale drinking, sacrificing of animals, smearing of blood on walls/people, and supernatural activity.  There was also a focus on, uh how do I say this, female fertility, so…

During the yuletide, people brought evergreen trees indoors and hung evergreen boughs to remind them of the life that would grow when winter ended — the origin of our Christmas trees and wreaths.

Candles, fires, and yule logs were lit to push back the winter darkness — the origin of our Christmas lights and, obviously, yule logs.

The Norse god Odin was honored, who author Margaret Baker, described as: “the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Giftbringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts.”  — remind you of anyone else?

This is also where we get mistletoe, caroling, and eating ham.  These are all pagan traditions that have been assimilated into Christmas and I was surprised to learn how many yule traditions we celebrate without realizing their origin.  The yuletide/winter solstice was a hugely important celebration across many cultures long before little baby Jesus.  Grocery stores and radiant floor heating didn’t exist.  Fireplaces weren’t just fun, crackle ‘n pop, winter accessories; winters were hard.  Celebrating the return of the sun was a significant moment and something that was revered globally by our non-equatorial ancestors.

 

And Then Little Baby Jesus Was Added

Right off I was surprised to learn that (1) Christians didn’t always celebrate Christmas, and (2) there is no mention of December 25th anywhere in the Bible.  No one actually knows the date of Jesus’ birth, although some religious historians believe there is evidence for him being born at other times of the year.

In the 3rd century, Pope Julius I chose December 25th as Jesus’ birthday, most likely since pagan and winter solstice festivals were already celebrated at that time.  By choosing the same time, church officials made it easier for people to embrace Christmas and they also assimilated many pagan traditions into Christmas to ease the transition.  For instance, they adopted the pagan tradition of evergreen trees but added a new Christian twist: they put apples in the trees to symbolize the Garden of Eden, and these apples became the ornaments we use today.

Christmas was not always as solemn, biblical, and family-oriented as it is today.  For a long time it was wildly pagan; it was still the yuletide and it was more like a drunken Mardi Gras celebrated in public, not celebrated privately as families.

There were so many pagan roots in Christmas traditions that it was opposed by many Christians (and still opposed by some today).  The Puritans in colonial New England banned Christmas and in 1644 the Massachusetts legislature fined anyone who celebrated Christmas 5 shillings (I tried to convert this into today’s dollars using my iPhone app but oddly it didn’t know the valuation).  The “war against Christmas” has been going on since like 1644, you guys.

Christmas, Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, yule, yuletide, tree, ornament

To Be Continued in Part II…

I will end the post here and save the rest for Part II where we’ll discuss when Santa came into the picture, how Coca-Cola contributed to who he is, when the pagans finally lost, and how Christmas turned into a massive assembly line of gifts and harmless, little lies for our children.

(Sources: I spent way too much time on Wikipedia, the History Channel website, and multitudes of religious websites for this information.  If you want backing, ask and ye shall receive.)

 

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Christmas is our creation.  A wonderful creation of ancient traditions all mashed into one weird but beautiful celebration of life and light and the stuff bigger than us.  Also heathen stuff, lots of heathen stuff.

Click here for Part II

<- Home



Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

By Thursday, November 27, 2014 8 5

Today is Thanksgiving; the day dedicated to saying “thank you” by eating so much you have to go lie down.  Every year your mom makes you read the Ann Landers “Thankful” poem.  You feel like a 5th grader wearing a paper Pilgrim hat (more on that later).  Then, everyone is forced to go around the table and awkwardly say what they’re thankful for.  You get irrationally nervous and cannot think of a single thing that’s appropriate for Aunt Maybelle to hear.  But there really is a lot to be thankful for and we rarely stop to appreciate it together, so this day is significant.

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, Thanksgiving, table, grateful, gratitude, thankful

This year I discovered what gratitude really means, what it means to really give thanks.  I’m sure most of us, when asked if we’re grateful, would say “Sure, yeah, totally, of course.”  But, I bet all the candied yams in the world that’s not really true.  I can admit that I wasn’t truly grateful until this year.  I didn’t know what it really meant.  It took challenging myself for 30 days to consciously work on it to finally feel gratitude.  What I felt was overwhelming.

I learned that being grateful is not an action, it’s a feeling.  I picture it — and actually feel it — like water ripples that I send out.  I imagine the ripples reaching people around me and washing over them, letting them in on the secret.

It takes practice to really feel grateful, but I can attest that once you feel it, you will know what I’m talking about.  It’s the most beautiful feeling, the fullest vibration, the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had.  Feeling gratitude for me is like becoming a kid again where I experience moments of pure happiness, awe, and excitement.  I always wished that as an adult I could experience what my birthday felt like as a child where my face pretty much exploded with how special and rad it all was.  Gratitude lets me feel that radness again.

So today, when you’re sitting around a table with friends or family or whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to pause a moment.  Take stock of your life, your health, your past, your air, your water, your everything.  Try to feel it, how much you have.  Do this alone so your mom doesn’t ask you to share all your thankfuls with Aunt Maybelle.  Put aside the Ann Landers cheesiness of giving thanks and really give thanks.  There is so much to be thankful for, so give yourself that moment and really look around.

I will end today with this gem:

Things They Forgot to Mention, blog, photo, Thanksgiving, pilgrim, grateful, gratitude, thankful That’s me being a festive little prairie girl on the left.  Sugar and spice and everything nice, for sure.  I believe that’s my turkey chandelier hanging above us too (dope!).  Special shout-out to my siblings: tssk tssk to my brother wearing a hoodie (not a feather in sight), and to my sister clearly not into pilgrim fashion at all…

Things They Forgot to Mention:

Today is more than the feast, the tryptophan, or the football.  There is so much to be grateful for, so share that today.  Because giving thanks is something you give — to yourself, to those around you, and to the world.

<- Home