Easter Eggs

Flora, Fetuses, and Fertility

By Joseph Young
Fall 2011

If you’re anything like me, you can’t think about Easter without imagining a parade of cute little bunnies and Easter eggs, dyed (or these days, made of plastic) in your favorite springtime pastels. But if you actually stop to think about it, bunnies don’t lay eggs. So why does the Easter Bunny bring them? And from what poor bird did he steal them?

It all traces back to the celebration of springtime and the vernal equinox, when nature starts reproducing again. This is typically around March 21, though in Ithaca, nature doesn’t wake up until late April or early May. For at least 2,500 years Persians have been celebrating Nowruz, or New Year, whose symbolism includes sprouts and sentiments of rebirth and renewal. Ancient Romans celebrated the Festival of Floralia, dedicated to Flora, the goddess of flowers, while the Druids celebrated Alban Eilir, honoring the seeds that would become that year’s harvest.
(art by Zach Kinkade)

Springtime, renewal, and fertility were associated with the Germanic goddess Eostre, after whom Easter was named. Eggs and bunnies have also long been considered fertility symbols. After all, eggs have fetuses inside (what could be more fertile than that?) and female rabbits are able to conceive while still pregnant with their previous litter, hence the expression, “to fuck like bunnies.” While it’s clear why eggs and bunnies are related to Easter, a bunny bringing an egg is a weird idea. Apparently, hares like to raise their babies in the vacated nests of plovers (a type of bird), and people got confused and thought the hares were laying eggs. In any case, the tradition of dyeing eggs dates back at least 2,500 years, and comes from Nowruz. Yet from there, it diverges. Some people dye them blood red, to symbolize Christ’s blood, while others use ornate wax-dyeing methods to make super intricate eggs that are then given as gifts. Either way, the day after Easter, I make a mean deviled egg.