Last night I noticed that the glow of the almost full moon had been joined by the glow from the large illuminated cross attached to the Mt Victoria radio mast, so there must be a Christian festival approaching soon. Given that the supermarkets are pumping out the smell of spiced buns rather than mince pies and their shelves are bestrewn with glittery glowing eggs, chickens and bunnies, I’m picking it’s Easter.
The commemoration of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection has been observed in New Zealand since the mid-1800s. In the northern hemisphere, it had been grafted onto pre-Christian traditions of celebrating the arrival of spring (or so I was always told), which doesn’t work so well on this side of the globe. If you’re not a winter lover, then you too might feel that actually what we need is a funereal celebration to get us in the right mood for the cold and dark to come.
However, it’s always a holiday! For most people. And there are the traditional things to eat and do. Mostly eat - hot cross buns and chocolate and more chocolate and even more chocolate. The range of Easter eggs available in the shops has hugely increased over my lifetime, but one that is now missing is New Zealand-made Cadbury crème eggs. I remember when they hit the shops in the 1980s - having a dribbly, gooey, unbelievable sweet filling was so different from either the hollow or marshmallow filled ones that had been standard before that (at least in our house). Apparently (and sadly) Cadburys no longer make them in their Dunedin factory - they stopped in 2009, and the crème eggs you now see are imported from the UK. Not everyone was happy about this, with some people complaining that the British eggs weren’t as good and a couple of Facebook campaigns were started up to try and reverse the decision (without any success so far).
Other egg-related traditions - nothing like a good Easter egg treasure hunt. I remember with great fondness a family friend who probably did the best Easter egg treasure hunts ever. They roamed over acres of land, and one year I remember it involved catching the donkey to get the next clue, or possibly an egg? Thinking back, it must have been a clue, as that donkey would have eaten anything remotely egg-like put in front of it, behind it or on top of it, tinfoil or not.
So hot cross buns, eggs, hens and rabbits. The symbolism of hot cross buns seems straightforward enough, and eggs - resurrection/rebirth/birth - there’s a link there, and from there to chickens - ok the endless question of who came first the chicken or the egg, similarly there’s a logic that I can see, but rabbits?
According to some, rabbits are the symbolic remnants of a festival held to honour Eostre, a northern goddess whose symbol was the hare (or rabbit). Others have suggested that rabbits are seen as a sign of fertility, (hence the phrase “breeding like rabbits”) and that is why they are associated with spring and therefore Easter. However, I got frightened off looking into this further by the number of intense (and frankly scary) debates out there in webland as to whether Eostre is linked to Easter at all, whether the holiday does or doesn’t have pagan links, where rabbits come into this, and whether it matters at all.
Here in New Zealand one of the more pragmatic ways we’ve dealt with Easter and rabbits is to spend the long weekend shooting them. According to Wednesday’s Otago Daily Times this year more than 400 hunters are expected to spend 24 hours from Friday to Saturday hunting the pests. (As you can see from the entry on rabbits in New Zealand they have been a pest pretty much since they arrived in the country). The hunt has been running since 1991, is organised by the local Lions Club as a fundraiser, and tallies of dead bunnies have ranged from a record 23,949 in 1997 to the low of 3,694 in 2001.
Luckily for small children everywhere, none of those shot so far have turned out to be an oversized white rabbit with a basket of Easter eggs. Happy Easter!