Easter is almost upon us and the shops have been filled to the rafters with chocolate eggs and bunnies for some time now. But if you really want to be Easter-authentic then I propose you treat your beloved to a hare related gift.
Easter is thought to be German or possibly even Babylonian in origin. Some believe that Easter gets its name from the old English Ēastre or Ēostre, the Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, for whom a festival was held in her honour every year at the vernal equinox. Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of spring, is another homophone of Easter. The date of Easter is not fixed, but instead is governed by the phases of the moon – very pagan.
The Christians had a nasty habit of overlaying their festivals on top of existing pagan ones. Consider it a kind of stealth conversion to Christianity or the ultimate in rebranding (or passing off). Some poor pagans went to bed thinking they were going to wake at dawn to worship their spring goddess but some devious little missionary convinced them they were actually celebrating the rebirth of Christ. However, I suspect more kids hunt and eat chocolate eggs than go to church on Easter Sunday so technically paganism is still more practiced than Christianity by children in modern Britain.
Even that stern symbol of Christianity, the hot cross bun, has dubious origins. One popular theory is that they originate from nearby St Albans, where as far back as 1361 Brother Thomas Rocliffe distributed "Alban buns" to the local poor on Good Friday. But there are older theories, such as the ancient Egyptians offering small round buns to their gods, the cross representing two ox horns, the symbol for strength and sovereignty. Closer to home, the Saxons probably offered crossed buns as a tribute to Ēostre, where the cross depicted the four quarters of the moon.
Back to our main topic – the Easter Bunny. Well the Romans believed that all life comes from an egg and they considered hares to be the symbol of fertility, as they are prolific breeders. So, rightly or wrongly, Roman children hunted for hare eggs in the grass. Another theory is that because eggs were not eaten during Lent, but they were decorated rather than wasted and given as presents at the end of Lent. In the 1500s German Lutherans portrayed the Easter Hare as a judge, evaluating whether children were good and would receive a painted egg gift. Chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies were not actually introduced until the early 19th century, with France and Germany taking the lead in this confectionary assault.
You might think I am splitting “hares” but it is clear that hares, not bunnies, are the true barer of Easter eggs. So, my recommended top 5 harey Easter gifts are:
- From the Bath Ales brewery try Wilde Hare, Golden Hare, Ginger Hare or Rare Hare.
- Any beers form Haresfoot Brewery, in particular Old Tiney named after William Cowper’s pet hare.
- Sip a Hopping Hare from the badger Brewery.
- Take it easy and sample the craft ales at the Resting Hare near Euston.
- Treat yourself to fine dining at the Jugged Hare.