Easter: Rabbits and Resurrection?

As a young mom with three small children, I wanted Easter to be full of spiritual significance for my family. Instead, the morning was just plain hectic. I was frustrated by the “extras” that overshadowed the true importance of the day.  New clothes, dying eggs, filling up baskets with candy and gifts—all “good things”— yet these added celebrations on Easter morning created stress. My husband and I ended up heading to church tired, juggling three little ones on a sugar high. The angst I felt was similar to my emotions at Christmas before I made it a more spiritually minded day.

But what could be done for Easter? I didn’t see an option.

The Christian observation of Easter, reflective of Passover, celebrates the completion of the Christmas story. The humble birth of a heaven-sent babe leads to the seemingly disastrous death of the Son of God. Easter Sunday, the celebration of Christ rising from the dead, brings a glorious ending. The resurrection story is crucial—for without it, our faith is in vain.

The secular definition of Easter, however, stems from traditions celebrating the festival of Spring along with bunnies, eggs, chicks, flowers and new growth. The story of a rabbit that brings eggs to children originated in Germany, where a simple tale became a legend and was later embraced by our culture.

Through the decades, the secular and the spiritual observances were combined into one holiday and this practice continues today. But, because of my desire to keep Easter Sunday about Christ and His resurrection, I came up with another option—I simply chose to celebrate the two on different days.

On the first official day of Spring (or the first Saturday after), the children awakened to brightly decorated baskets at the end of their beds—it was always a surprise as the day changes every year. They excitedly raced to find the eggs they knew would be hidden in the house and outdoors. We talked about emerging colors, signs of spring, and new life as we gathered eggs and ate egg-shaped pancakes with candy for dessert. Nothing was missing from the traditional Easter morning routine; we celebrated and partied all day long, rejoicing that winter was past. If new outfits were in the budget that year, they proudly wore them the next Sunday. We simply changed the names to “Spring” baskets and clothes.

Then on Easter weekend we retold the story of the crucifixion, silent Saturday, and resurrection Sunday with visual aids we made ourselves.

The first year I explained the art project to my two sons as their baby sister napped. I blew up a balloon and taped it to a square of heavy cardboard. Then we dipped strips of newspaper in white paste glue and formed our best idea of a “tomb” with a space left open for entering. I made a flat, circular “stone” to cover the entrance. After it all dried, we popped the balloon and painted the tomb and stone brown. Then I added Sunday school cutouts as actors in the story.

On Good Friday, we erected a simple cross with the base secured in modeling clay. At noon, we placed the figure of Jesus on the cross and added a sign declaring, “The King of the Jews.”  

We took the figure down as close to 6:00pm as possible, wrapping it in white fabric and laying the “body” in the tomb.

After rolling the stone to close the entrance, we stationed guards just as the Romans did. The scene remained this way until Sunday.

In the early morning on Sunday, the kids would awaken to peer into an empty tomb. The stone was rolled away and a shining angel stood where the guards once were. A sign declaring, “He is not here—He is risen,” graced the scene. Off to the side, a risen Christ greeted a kneeling Mary.

After a breakfast of “resurrection rolls,” we were ready for Easter celebration at church. The service reinforced the truths we had already enacted at home.

Now as adults, my children speak of the influence of the visual aids on their faith. They never felt deprived of Easter celebrations each year because they had them before anyone else—and they loved their Spring baskets! One son remembered studying the tomb and anticipating what would come the next day. Both sons spoke of the impact the angel made, standing beside an empty tomb with the stone rolled away. My daughter loved the interaction of placing the guards at the tomb, rolling the stone, and seeing a different scene in the morning. And to me, the cross was a poignant reminder as I walked by it in the afternoon. The six hours seemed terribly long and I found myself wanting to take it down, to shorten the suffering somehow . . . and was relieved to do so with my children at the right time. Then I rejoiced more fully with them at the Easter morn scene.

One year, five-year-old Forrest told his teacher about our Easter tradition. She asked me to share it with the class. I did so, adding music while I changed the scenes and reenacted the story. Years later, one of the girls in class that day said it made an impact on her life; for the first time she both understood and responded to the invitation to put her faith in Jesus.

I realize this departure from the norm may not be for everyone. But for our family, it has become a tradition intrinsically woven into the most important Christian holiday of the year. We enjoyed both the fun of celebrating rabbits and the poignancy of remembering Christ’s sacrifice—at separate times. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection became personal, interactive, and powerful.

In this day of Pinterest-perfect creations and computer-generated images, it’s refreshing to see that a simple homemade craft can be effective in teaching truth. The process and the reenactment are the important parts, not the product. 

Today, as I see my daughter preparing her little son’s Spring basket, with plans of creating their own tomb one day, I know the departure from the norm has lasting spiritual results—even to the next generation.