Why Easter eggs? Why bunnies? Why chocolate? If so, whom? These are some good questions. The last one looks like the result of youthful enthusiasm. It’s probably grammatically wrong anyway, unless “who” would be wrong instead. I bet it was submitted by someone who hypercorrects things. Hypercorrecting is a fun pastime. You start out with something that’s okay and then apply the grammatical rule of “people don’t sound like they know what they’re doing, so make it sound more obscure or complicated”. It’s good fun. It appeals to people’s desire to sound like they know a better set of rules than everyone else does. And it gives people who like to correct mistakes something to write about. There’s nothing so fun as correcting the hypercorrect. I thought that time I got a bag of rabbit litter at half-price was that good. I was wrong.
Anyway, Easter we can understand. If we didn’t have Easter then there’d be this huge attention-getting gap in-between Ash Wednesday and the Feast of the Assumption. “Shouldn’t something go in the middle, here?” people would ask. Eventually all sorts of folk explanations would spring up. Maybe they’d tumble across “there ought to be a particularly holy day for one of the top religions” there. “Also we should have plastic eggs and rabbits made of candy” I bet wouldn’t. Maybe people would do some more research and figure, “Hey, there’s got to be something that’s seventy days before Septuagesima, unless that’s supposed to be seventy days after Septuagesima.”
I mean if there still is a Septuagesima. I haven’t checked and I have the feeling it’s been downplayed ever since Vatican II: Vaticannier. But it’s a heck of a name for something. It isn’t seventy days from anything interesting in either direction. There’s probably a reason for that. Yes, I meant the Feast of the Ascension. The Assumption is a completely different thing. Don’t challenge me on this. I was raised Catholic so I remember there was something called the homoiousian controversy and couldn’t deliver the Nicene Creed with cue cards. We said the Nicene Creed every Sunday. Nobody ever talked about the homoiousian controversy.
Since we have Easter, we don’t have to worry about why there isn’t an Easter, although if it ever goes missing you know what to look for. Easter eggs we can wonder about. If there’s anything that we could get straightened out then we’d have one thing straightened out, and that would leave is in much better shape. For instance, let’s do away with the folk etymology that says they were originally “yeaster eggs”, egg-shape snacks made out of extremely bread-based foods. We can also do away with the tale that it started out as “Easter yeggs”, roving packs of 19th-century Bowery B’hoy toughs prowling the riverfront and painting themselves brightly. These theories were popular in the 1970s when they were thought to be hoaxes played by angry writer H L Mencken. But we now know the claim that they were a hoax was a prank on Mencken played by President Taft.
The tradition of hiding Easter eggs come to us from Renaissance Germany, with an assist by the Princely States of India and a rebound against Grand Columbia, which does not figure in this narrative. The problem originally was one of planting the seeds of useful crops like barley or bauxite or jute or other stuff from social studies textbooks without having birds flying in and eating them all. Somewhere on the upper Rhine the locals realized they could plant the birds instead and wait for the seeds to fly in and carry them off. The practice spread and grew to be very popular, eggs put in all sorts of places on the ground, and didn’t lose popularity even when it turned out to not even begin to sort-of work.
Since that failed, they tried making the process more complicated. Painting the eggs turned out not to be a way to get blue chickens with yellow zig-zag stripes, but wasn’t it worth trying, just in case? Do you know anyone who has better ideas to handle our shortage of blue chickens with yellow zig-zag stripes? It’s not so easy to achieve, is it? Anyway, during the Thirty Years War the tradition fled Germany, and who could blame it? The tradition’s got some sense after all.
There is no explanation for how the rabbits and chocolate and all that got involved. I’ll try to write that up next year before Easter.