It’s that time of year again when many people are tucking into their Easter eggs brought to them by the Easter Bunny. But have you thought about why Easter should be represented by a bunny rabbit?
If not you’ll be shocked to know that the Easter Bunny is a fraud and an interloper having usurped the proper place of the hare who had in turn taken the credit for an act performed by the Northern Lapwing.
It all started back in Pagan Europe where the populace were unencumbered by knowledge of ornithology, zoology or biology, They created myths and legends to explain the world around them.
They were however close to nature, almost part of the environment themselves and, as such, they were very aware of the creatures with which they shared their world. Among those animals was the European Hare. They knew that the hare created forms in which they would lay, with just their eyes, ears and nose visible.
But those people were very surprised to find that the hare would, in spring, lay eggs in that form. Nowadays we think it absurd that anyone could imagine this was the case, but remember the eggs had come from the Lapwing which, as we are all aware will make themselves scarce, leaving the nest long before any person gets close enough to see them brooding. Consequently the people were finding forms, with eggs and no bird in sight.
The upshot of this was that the hare took on a significance as a symbol of fertility.
When Christianity swept across Europe, it adopted much from the Pagan culture and converted the festivals and stories to fit its own messages. The winter solstice became Christmas and the Spring equinox became Easter (the name itself coming from the Pagan goddess Eostre). However one thing that Christians were not keen to adopt was the Pagan symbol of fertility, so the hare morphed into a cuddly, little, fluffy bunny rabbit instead. They had probably not quite made the connection with the antics of a Buck Rabbit, one of the most potent symbols of fertility anywhere.
But it doesn’t end there, the connection between Easter eggs and Lapwings continues. Lapwing eggs were a great delicacy at the beginning of the previous century. Nests were plundered in huge numbers to satisfy the demand, almost making the lapwing extinct as a breeding bird in the UK and prompting the writing of Lapwing Act of 1926 to protect them. Once the sale of their eggs became illegal, a substitute was called for, and the chocolate eggs, that had already been invented by that time, were promoted to become the celebration of Easter in place of the Lapwings eggs.
That then is where it all came from. The real hero of the piece is the much maligned (the collective noun is a deceit of Lapwings), humble and simply glorious Northern Lapwing.
A few years ago we approached an independent chocolatier to try to persuade them to create chocolate Lapwings for Easter with a view to raising money for wader conservation, they did not take up the idea sadly, but, if anyone knows of a chocolate producer with a sympathetic ear for next year, we are still up for the idea.
Happy Easter everyone, enjoy the good weather (if you are lucky enough to be having some in your area as we are) but do it safely and within the regulations put in place by your local authorities.
This story and many others can be found in the Wader Quest book by the title of An Inspiration of Waders, by Rick and Elis Simpson. £8.50 (RRP £9.99) available from Wader Quest via firstname.lastname@example.org. All proceeds go to Wader Quest to support wader conservation.