One of my favorite Easter stories comes from a friend whose toddler was attending a progressive nursery school. Because the school was fiercely nondenominational, it was careful about celebrating holidays but got caught, as schools do, wanting to acknowledge various events without emphasizing the religious origins. So the school told parents that their children would have a visit from the "Spring Rabbit."
On the day of the celebration, my friend told her little boy, "Today, the Spring Rabbit is coming to your school." Her son burst into tears and said, "No, Mama, I don't want the Spring Rabbit - I want the Easter Bunny."
He knew. The Easter Bunny matters.
These days I have been sighing. I sigh when I hear the rants on TV and read the misguided articles about how the Easter Bunny is one more example of the commercial exploitation of Christianity. It's a reprise of the Santa Claus/Christmas rant.
This accusation that the Easter Bunny takes something away from Easter ignores the fact that the creators of Easter did more than a teensy bit of taking from previous holidays. The celebration of spring, of light returning from darkness, is ancient. It was part of Celtic and Mesopotamian cultures. The Easter Bunny (well, back then he was just a rabbit) was part of Phoenician festivals as early as 1100 B.C. Because rabbits are energetic and prolific, they were considered expressive of the power of life to wake from death in the spring.
While our Christian Easter celebrates Christ rising from the dead, it is named after the goddess of dawn, Eastre, and her celebration of the rebirth of the sun this time of year.
Can it hurt to acknowledge previous contributors to our culture? Surely our beliefs are big enough and our faith deep enough to not fear what came before. Ours is a culture of assimilation, and our holidays are mostly overlays of ancient religions. That's not a bad thing, just a history thing.
It is so easy to "tut-tut," or perhaps "cluck," about the Easter Bunny and toss off accusations such as "exploiting the sacred" - but that's just lazy thinking. There's more to this rabbit, or he wouldn't have stuck around all this time. As a Christian, I think we have to give the Easter Bunny his due.
So, what's this bunny about? He is, of course, about fertility, and a fairly voracious strain: He's a male rabbit who lays eggs in a nest, carries them in a basket and then hides them for children to find. It's quite a picture when you think about it.
But there's something even more important for us to consider about the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny brings gifts for children, but unlike Santa Claus - who comes into our home and brings gifts to the safety of our hearth - the Easter Bunny calls us to come outdoors to look for his eggs. The Easter Bunny invites us to come into the world.
There is a very old belief that on Easter morning, the sun dances. If, as they say, heaven is on Earth, it makes sense that we have to step out of our homes or our work - whatever we bury ourselves in - to experience it. And we do that with others who are also coming out to look around.
The poet Kathleen Norris offers this from her research: According to recent scriptural scholarship, Jesus' saying, "The Kingdom of God is within you" should be more accurately rendered as "The Kingdom of God is among you." So with apologies to ministers who are struggling for just the right words for this morning's sermon, Easter is less about who is in the pulpit and more about who is in the pews.
We go inside to find one kind of spirituality, but ultimately we have to roll away our own stones and come into the world. The Easter Bunny calls us outward to join our fellows and to look around our lives.
Diane Cameron lives in Valatie, N.Y. Her e-mail is email@example.com.