21 April 2014

Easter eggs and Easter bunnies

Although Easter is a time when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the origins of Easter can be traced back to much earlier, pagan times, hence the eggs and bunnies most of us associate with our Easter holidays.

Some sources say the name Easter comes from Ishtar (pronounced ‘Easter’), the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of sex and fertility. Given the similarity of the names, as well as the bunny’s propensity for reproduction and the egg playing an essential part in the reproductive cycle, the association of bunnies and eggs with Ishtar-Easter would seem to make perfect sense.

However, other sources say there is no actual evidence that Ishtar is associated with the present-day Easter celebrations and cite the Venerable Bede as their source when explaining that the name comes from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring. Springtime festivities traditionally celebrate rebirth and fertility, so the bunnies and the eggs fit right in with that explanation.

It seems the modern day Easter Bunny started life amongst German Lutherans (the earliest known written record is dated 1682), where his role was a little like that of Santa Claus – if a child had been good, they would receive gifts. That Bunny carried coloured eggs in a basket, though he also sometimes brought sweets and toys. Originally, the eggs were dyed and painted chicken eggs, but these days the eggs are usually made of chocolate or sometimes plastic, filled with other types of sweets.

In the week or so before this Easter, during my daily walks around Auckland’s inner city suburbs, I kept a look out for evidence of Easter in the shops I passed.

20 of the Big Eggs were at Auckland Museum over Easter weekend
The most public sign that Easter was imminent was in the huge multi-coloured eggs I found decorating public squares and walkways, shop windows and gallery spaces. These were from the Whittaker’s Big Egg Hunt – you can read more about the Hunt and see Auckland’s 46 big eggs in my previous two blogs

I also found some large colourful eggs in the streets of Newmarket but turns out they have nothing to do with Easter and are, in fact, not eggs at all. According to artist Seung Yul Oh, they are Globgobs, and this vibrant set of nine Globgobs cost $70,000 when they were installed back in June 2010. I’m a big fan of public artworks to enliven our city streets but $7777 per egg seems a rather hefty sum to pay for what are essentially big eggs. 

In the window of an antiques shop in Parnell, I discovered some gorgeous eggs, painted with fairytale farmyards full of Mother Hens and their cute little chicks, and adorable scenes of Beatrix-Potter-style rabbits.

Rabbits were also to be found decorating the shop windows at Lush, the store famous for its freshly made cosmetics. As well as their Funny Bunny gift pack, they were selling Fluffy Egg Bath Ballistics, Bunny Bubble Bars and Carrot Soaps, to name just a few of their specialty Easter treats.

Galtons of Parnell had dedicated most of their window display to Easter products. As well as the huge brown-and-white furry Bunny, which jiggled back and forth, there was a large metal rabbit ornament for the garden, and a myriad of small hanging decorations, from chickens to bunnies and so much more. In fact, their website lists 15 pages of Easter-themed products to tempt the shopper! 

However, if the Easter Bunny didn’t turn up at your house this Easter, I think I know exactly who’s to blame. The often controversial Hell Pizza company chose the Easter holiday weekend to release their new product, rabbit pizza. Though I find the rabbit-skin covering of the billboard rather distasteful, rabbits are a serious pest in New Zealand, their meat is apparently very lean, and many country folk still eat rabbit on a regular basis though it’s not a meat you’ll find at the local supermarket.

I think the Easter Bunny did indeed end up on someone’s pizza on Good (or should that be Bad?) Friday, as I spotted his ghost in Ponsonby on Saturday morning and then a rather angelic-looking rabbit in a Parnell jewellery shop window on Sunday. Let’s just hope the Bunny was resurrected or there’ll be no chocolate eggs for Easter next year!

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