What we tell our kids about the Easter Bunny

Easter is the biggest Sunday of the year for Christians—and rightfully so. It’s an occasion for us to celebrate the … Continued

Easter is the biggest Sunday of the year for Christians—and rightfully so. It’s an occasion for us to celebrate the Resurrection, the victory of Jesus Christ over Satan, sin, and death.

Will Dickey

AP

Grant Makofske, 2, has a chat with the Easter Bunny at the Spring Festival at St. Vincent’s Hospital Southside Saturday, March 31, 2012 in Jacksonville, Fla.

It’s also when a few of the more “interesting” folks in the church, the kind who like to write end-times charts on ammo boxes in crayon, come out of the woods to rail against the day as a pagan holiday.

It’s most likely that the origins of Easter stem from early Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of the British Isles during the first millennium who celebrated a spring festival in the month of April in honor of their goddess Eostre, who represented fertility and the arrival of spring, light, and the rising dawn.

When Christian missionaries first arrived in Britain from the Roman Empire during this time, they incorporated some of the pre-existing traditional festivities into the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which took place in the same season. Basically, since everyone had the day off and it was a fun time to celebrate, the Christians then were unsure exactly when Jesus rose from death and so they chose to add their celebrations to the day. Over the centuries, the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection overtook Eostre in popularity, although the name stuck as “Easter.”

Some Christians, rather than celebrate the fact that a day that was once devoted to the celebration of a pagan god and is now devoted to Jesus, wish to be the conscience police and go around telling everyone how they should stop having fun and celebrating because of the day’s origins. If someone has a conscience issue with celebrating the holiday, they should abstain, but to rail against kids eating candy and having fun sounds more like the religious types who murdered Jesus than the kids who hung out with him.

When it comes to cultural issues like this, we as Christians should view them through a simple rubric: reject, receive, or redeem? In this case, the early missionaries to the British Isles sought to redeem Easter rather than reject it or simply receive it. As a result, it became one of the centers of Christianity for many centuries and Eostre the goddess was all but forgotten.

On the other end of the spectrum, for most people in our culture, Easter is more synonymous with fluffy bunnies, brightly painted eggs, kids hopped up on chocolate and a great meal with family and friends.

And while many Christians happily and freely celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter today, they don’t know exactly how to approach the whole Easter Bunny thing. So, I thought I’d take a moment to share how we do at the Driscoll house.


View Photo Gallery: Christians around the world raised palm branches in traditional observances launching Holy Week, which for believers marks the Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Just like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny is a hallmark of American culture. So, unless you live in a commune, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist and that it’s not a significant part of our cultural observance of the holiday.

My wife, Grace, and I choose to tell our five kids that the Easter Bunny, while fun, isn’t a real, magical bunny that hops from house to house laying colored eggs, candies, and toys on Easter morning. That’s a make-believe story, and we have no objections to fun and imagination so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth. With the overt commercialization that comes along with the Easter Bunny, and consequently Easter, as parents we don’t want to lose sight of celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But that doesn’t mean those things are bad in and of themselves. We simply want to enjoy them in their proper context. We are for fun. We are for Jesus.

As with many things, we redeem the idea of the Easter Bunny. We tell our kids that the Easter Bunny is a make-believe character from a non-Christian holiday. We tell them that years ago in Germany children would build a nest for the “Easter hare” to lay her eggs in, and that it wasn’t until Germans immigrated to the United States that this tradition was widely accepted and practiced here. We stress that Easter is a time for us to remember the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that the Easter Bunny is a make-believe character who has been adopted as the official Easter mascot.

We take the same approach to the Easter Bunny the way we do with Santa Claus at Christmas. We don’t demonize the Easter Bunny, but enjoy the tradition for what it is without making it the main theme of the holiday. Having your children’s pictures taken with the Easter Bunny or going on Easter egg hunts are all about having fun and making good memories. And there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the festivities as long as they don’t overshadow Jesus.

Just as early missionaries didn’t reject or receive the pagan holiday of Eostre but rather redeemed it for Jesus, we too seek to redeem the cultural practices we observe in the U.S. without letting them overshadow Jesus and his Resurrection, and without making us completely irrelevant or even antagonistic to culture and those weird Christians on the block, the ones everybody tries to avoid because they believe that being for Jesus also means being against fun.

Easter is this Sunday. Jesus is alive! One person has conquered death and is the savior for any person who trusts in him. That is reason to celebrate! I hope you enjoy the festivities, including the egg hunts and the chocolate bunnies. But more importantly, I pray you experience the true joy of knowing and living for the risen Jesus Christ.

Photographer: Will Foster

Mark Driscoll is author, most recently, of “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together.” He is pastor at Mars Hill Church, in Seattle, Washington.

More On Faith and Easter:

What did Jesus do on Holy Saturday?

James Martin, S.J.: Palm Sunday lessons from an unlikely Pontius Pilate

Holy Week begins around the world

Mark Driscoll
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  • persiflage

    ‘…….and we have no objections to fun and imagination so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth.’

    Sorry Mark, but resurrections and Easter bunnies are both fanciful myths – founded on the ancient pagan observation of renewal and ‘rebirth’ during the spring solstice i.e. the return of life after the dormant winter. Myth was very often the providence of naturally observed phenomena.

  • Brandon_Weldy

    Great article. My wife and I hold to the same convictions. I always had a problem when parents would teach their children that anyone who enjoys the fun of Santa or the Easter Bunny are evil. We have no problem with it but we are choosing to teach our children it is just imaginative fun. That will give us an opportunity for us to teach about why we celebrate during those times of year.

  • ccnl1

    Putting the final kibosh on religion to include Mormonism:

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details are available.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • SODDI

    It’s not the Easter Bunny myth that has caused so much REAL evil and suffering in the world. It’s the Jesus myth.

  • Secular1

    Oh! really Mr. Driscoll, you tell your kids that Easter Bunny is make believe and that JC, the resurrection and teh whole nine yards is true? SHAME on you Mr. Driscoll.

  • Sadetec

    “My wife, Grace, and I choose to tell our five kids that the Easter Bunny, while fun, isn’t a real, magical bunny that hops from house to house laying colored eggs, candies, and toys on Easter morning. That’s a make-believe story, and we have no objections to fun and imagination so long as the kids also know that the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact and not a fanciful myth.”

    Oh, if only you were capable of stepping back to recognise the beautiful irony in just that one short passage. It has a childlike naive innocence which is almost endearing. Certainly, it brought a smile to my face — out of the mouths of babes and innocents, as they say. Thanks.

  • Brandon_Weldy

    I’m not sure I understand. Jesus didn’t preach to go and do evil. He spent his life showing us a better way to live. It was a way back to God. I’m sorry that you do not believe in Jesus. Did you know there is more contextual proof (both in the Scriptures and out of them) that the people who wrote the Bible actually wrote it than there is that Homer actually wrote the Odessy? Did you know that accounts of Alexander the Great did not really start appearing until hundreds of years after his death but the first accounts of Jesus were written down within the first 60 years. But nobody questions how genuine the Odessy is or whether Alexander the great really did EVERYTHING we believe he did.

  • destinysmom

    I’m a cradle Catholic about to be on Social Security. One of my priests, quite a while back, told us that legend and tradition (but not biblical truth) holds that a rabbit was the only animal awake and in the garden when Jesus rose from the tomb.
    Truth? — probably not.
    Harmless legend (assuming you are a practicing Christian imparting your faith to your children) — why not?

  • panmankey

    Dear Washington Post Editors and Mr. Driscoll,

    If you are going to write (and edit) a piece on the origins of Easter, please bother to do some primary research. The goddess Eostre shows up only once in Ancient History, in the writings of the British historian Bede, who claims that she was a Germanic fertility goddess. She is completely absent from the mythological record. Bede got a lot of things wrong in his histories, this could be another one. Is the word “Easter” of pagan origin? It’s hard to say with any certainty. “Eostre” in pre-Christian traditions was never the name of a day either, Bede specifically says it was the name of a month, translating to something like “Dawn Month.” Eventually the Christian Easter season was described this way before being simplified into just “Easter.” Celts in the British Isles would have been celebrating Beltane and Imbolc, not an April holiday. Germanic pagans would have celebrated the equinox, in March. This article is horrible.

    The Easter Bunny might very well be “pagan” in origin, but there are no records of the Easter Bunny until 1500, centuries after the triumph of Christianity in Europe. It’s possible that the Easter Bunny could be pagan in origin, but it can’t be proven either way, because the bunny just doesn’t exist in the historical record until 500 years ago.

    Mark, if you need help with the history of holidays and their origins I’ll be happy to help.

  • SODDI

    I sincerely doubt that the events of the Trojan War went down as Homer wrote them.

    I doubt almost all history, seeing as it was written by the winners. For instance, Suetonius’ classic “The Tweve Caesars” almost certainly had the sexy decadence factor turned up to 11 at the request of Hadrian, who as the last Flavian emperor had a vested interest in seeing the Julio-Claudians defamed as corrupt and decadent.

    What christians like to do is akin to that – rewriting history post facto to fit their current beliefs. But they insist that such revisionist history IS the real history.

    Have you ever read the “Gospel of Thomas” from the Nag Hammadi Library? If that document was included in your New Testament, what would christianity be like? As the teachings of one of Jesus’ disciples, it certainly is more worthy of inclusion than Saul of Tarsus’ endless and angry diatribes or Revelation.

    Why isn’t it in your bible?

  • reformthesystem

    Rabbits, being rodents, don’t reproduce by laying eggs. However, that doesn’t mean the whole reproduction thing is out the window, as anyone who has ever seen rabbits shag must be aware. That has led to the colloquial description of certain persons who are said to ____ like bunnies.

    Nevertheless, the Resurrection is not completely separated from this sort of thing. Mythologists associated descriptions of the event with what happened to Osiris and Isis in the Nile Valley thousands of years before Jesus physically appeared among humans.

  • SODDI

    Osiris, Mithras, Balder…

  • sashman15

    And thats how we have to approach what Jesus did for us. As a child would.

  • Sadetec

    @sashman15

    Well to be honest, it wouldn’t really work if you approached it as an adult. Children are more willing to believe without examining the veracity of supporting evidence, so it’s easier to hoodwink them.

    But it is kind of a funny strategy: exposing the Easter Bunny story as a myth in the vein hope your children won’t scrutinize the Jesus story too much. Almost as if your honest on one thing can be used as currency to buy their compliance with the other.

  • Catken1

    Pedantically speaking, rabbits are not rodents, they’re lagomorphs, but they still don’t lay eggs.
    If we want an Easter mammal, we may have to go for platypus or echidna…

  • Catken1

    Just curious, Mark, how do you feel about Pagan parents who let their kids have Christmas trees but make sure they let their kids know that the virgin birth is only a pretty myth, and that the real reason for the season is the winter solstice?

    If you’re going to borrow Pagan trappings for your celebration, I hope you then show respect for your Pagan neighbors and do not deride their faith as less deserving of American civil liberties than yours (as Bush did when he said, “Well, I don’t think Wicca is a real religion?”) .

  • Catken1

    Sashman – why does your God need a human sacrifice to forgive others?

    And why is Jesus’s sacrifice – knowing that he would rise again, knowing that it was only temporary – greater than, say, Lincoln’s, who knew he was likely to be assassinated, had no hopes of resurrection on this Earth, but kept on doing his job anyway?

  • ericarthurblair1

    Rabbits are not rodents. They’re lagomorphs, a taxonomic order that includes hares, rabbits and pikas, but are distinct from rodents despite some superficial similarities. In most religions, spring is a season for celebrating fertility, and, as you pointed out, rabbits are certainly fertile. Likewise, eggs are also representations of fertility, as is the phallic maypole.

  • telemachus

    I thought it was well established that it was the Romans who killed Jesus for political reasons.

    Yet this author says it was religious types that were responsible for the death…. I wonder what he is really thinking?

  • SODDI

    Even funnier than the Easter bunny myth is the myth of the blue-eyed, blond-haired, white Anglo-Saxon Jesus. You know, the one that christians pray to.

    It’s more likely that Jesus looked like Osama bin Laden than like Tab Hunter.

  • SODDI

    “The Jews didn’t kill Jesus.
    The Romans didn’t kill Jesus.
    THE COPS killed Jesus.”

    St. Palmer Vreedeez

  • Carstonio

    Celebrations of the arrival of spring are found in many religions past and present. The same is true of holidays marking the lengthening of the days right after the winter solstice. Religions have appeared, changed, or died out all the time in human history, and the religions that exist today might not be the same ones that exist hundreds of years from now. It’s very likely that humans will still be holding those seasonal celebrations in different forms. So the only reason one might treat the secular trappings of Christmas and Easter as threats is if one has a vested interest in converting everyone to the religion involved.