By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
Originally published March 23, 2018
You’ve all seen the ads that spring up [ha, ha] this time of year marketing cuddly bunnies and brightly-dyed baby chicks as wonderful Easter gifts for your children. If you’re thinking about buying one, DON’T DO IT!! Amy Mott, president of the Clover Patch Sanctuary, a rabbit and small animal rescue organization right here in Franklin, says “You wouldn’t give your child a reindeer for Christmas. Why would you give him a bunny or duck or chick for Easter??” Amen. If you succumb to their fluffy cuteness, you’ll basically ruin the life of a living, breathing creature to provide a brief diversion for your child. A huge percentage of bunnies, chicks and ducklings given as Easter gifts are abandoned as soon as the novelty wears off. What happens to these unfortunate animals next is not a pretty picture.
How did bunnies, hot pink chicks and ducklings become associated with Easter anyway? One theory emphasizes the Easter Bunny’s pagan roots, especially the rabbit’s connection to Eostra, goddess of the spring and fertility. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate. But according to Catholic Online, the tradition of the Easter Bunny has distinctly Christian origins. The ancient Greeks thought rabbits could reproduce as virgins, a belief that persisted until early medieval times, when the rabbit became associated with the Virgin Mary. In medieval manuscripts, rabbit images served as allegorical illustrations of her virginity. It is likely that German Protestants invented the myth of the Easter Bunny for their children. Even in earliest folklore, the Easter Bunny came as a judge, hiding decorated eggs for well-behaved children.
No matter how the connection with Easter originated, rabbits, chicks and ducklings have not benefited from the association. The Easter holiday seems to bring out the bunny, chick and duckling lovers in people. They think such animals are perfect “starter pets” to teach children responsibility. So they make an impulse buy and their child goes wild with joy for a day. Reality soon sets in as it dawns on parents that these animals are not the “low maintenance” pets they’d imagined.
According to National Geographic, vets and insurance companies consider rabbits exotic pets, so medical care can be more expensive than for a cat or dog. Rabbits need a lot of exercise and shouldn’t be stuck away in a cage. This means they need to learn to use a litterbox. They’re also prey animals and generally don’t like to be picked up by humans, whom they view as predators. The result is that children who want to cuddle with their baby bunny can be frustrated when it doesn’t respond the way they expect and they quickly lose interest. Many parents don’t realize that rabbits can live more than 10 years, a commitment comparable to adopting a dog or cat. When that once-adorable baby bunny matures at between three and six months old, it can become aggressive and even destructive. Male rabbits will also spray urine if not neutered. Proper exercise, litterbox training, and spaying or neutering curb the problem for most rabbits. But many impulse buyers don’t expect and can’t commit to that level of responsibility, and they scramble to surrender the animals.
Rabbits are the third most popular pet in America after cats and dogs, but according to the Humane Society of the United States, they’re also the third most abandoned – and euthanized. It’s unclear exactly how many rabbits originally sold as Easter pets are abandoned each year. But rescuers in shelters all over the country report a spike in calls after Easter from people trying to unload their unwanted bunnies. Clover Patch Sanctuary’s Amy Mott estimates that “80-90% of our adoptable rabbits were once Easter gifts to children. We can judge that fairly well by the timing that they came into rescue.” Many more rabbits – possibly thousands – are abandoned outdoors, a cruel death sentence for these domesticated animals possessing no survival skills or instincts.
Chicks and ducklings don’t fare any better. At Easter, fuzzy brightly colored chicks and ducklings can be too cute to resist. To achieve the brilliant hues displayed by some chicks, a dye is actually injected into the incubating egg. Other chicks are sprayed with a fine mist of dye immediately after hatching. Farmers, hatcheries and others who dye chicks claim the process is harmless, but animal rights workers say the experience is stressful for the birds. In addition to the trauma of being dyed, the bright colored feathers help make them seem more like disposable toys than living animals. Many states ban the practice of dyeing and selling chicks. In Tennessee, it is a Class C misdemeanor to “sell, offer for sale, barter or give away baby chickens, ducklings or goslings of any age, or rabbits under two (2) months of age, as pets, toys, premiums or novelties, if those fowl or rabbits have been colored, dyed, stained or otherwise had their natural color changed.”
But non-dyed chicks and ducklings are still sold as Easter gifts, and like bunnies, they are not ideal beginning pets for children. They can be quite messy. They are extremely fragile and can die from overhandling or being dropped, especially in the first few days before the child’s excitement wanes. Chicks and ducks may also present hazards for children. They can scratch and peck with sharp talons and beaks, but worse, they may spread the bacterial disease Salmonella, which can be especially dangerous to children and the elderly. When the birds preen, they spread the bacteria all over their feathers. So it’s best to avoid contact with them, or at least wash hands thoroughly immediately after touching.
Many people who buy adorable Easter chicks and ducklings have no capacity or intention of caring for adult fowl. Like bunnies, the unwanted birds are often handed over to shelters where they may face euthanasia if they’re not adopted. When abandoned outdoors, they have no experience foraging or avoiding predators. Easter ducklings, many of which are byproducts of the food trade, can swim, but unlike wild ducks, they can’t fly and are vulnerable to temperature changes and make easy targets for predators. One Florida farmer who offers to take unwanted Easter pets does not hide the fact that he will use them for food. He offers to keep them happy while they’re alive, but in the end, he says, “we’re all part of the food chain.”
There are plenty of great alternatives to giving live animals as Easter gifts. Consider:
- Plush rabbits or chicks
- Chocolate bunnies and candy birds and eggs
- Books and games about bunnies, chicks and ducklings
- A visit to a reputable, educational petting zoo
- A birdhouse or feeder to attract wild birds
- Bunny, chick or duckling figurines
- Make a gift in your child’s name to a rabbit or small animal rescue organization
I’ll let Amy Mott from Clover Patch Sanctuary have the final word on bunnies, chicks and ducklings as Easter gifts: “There is never a reason to give a child a live animal as a present for Easter or any other holiday and/or birthday. Animals are not ‘things’ or objects. The only way to put the breeders out of business is to stop buying from them. The chain has to stop. In this day and age of information and compassion it’s really time to get on the ball with ending the antiquated practice of gifting animals to children. They have to learn from adults that all creatures great and small are worthy and special in God’s eyes.” That really says it all.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am NOT saying that rabbits and poultry cannot be great pets for the right people in appropriate situations. Rabbits make wonderful pets for owners who understand their needs and are committed to caring for them their entire lives. A list of helpful books you can borrow at WCPL on raising rabbits is attached to this article. Visit the House Rabbit Society’s website, rabbit.org, to learn more about rabbit care. We’ve got an excellent resource – Clover Patch Sanctuary – right here in Franklin for anyone seriously interested in adding a rabbit to their family. Check out their website!
Raising backyard chickens is increasingly popular, and the library has some great books on the proper care and housing of chickens and other poultry. Within Franklin’s city limits, it is suggested that homeowners keep no more than four to six hens (no roosters). Check Franklin city codes for rules on housing, noise levels, and cleanliness. Be sure to consult your neighborhood’s homeowners association regulations for other restrictions regarding keeping backyard chickens.
Read the rest of this entry
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Easter is a holiday that everyone knows is Christian, right? Or is it another pagan festival corrupted to fit the recruitment needs of the early church? Just like a paraphrase of the old Reese’s commercial, you got your pagan in my Christianity or vice versa.
Easter as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and the salvation of man is undeniably Christian. It’s not misplaced in the year like Christmas, to help offset the yule festivities, or made up to cover an existing harvest festival like Halloween, All-Saints Day, and All Souls Day. It does have the distinction of being part of the collection of last great moveable feasts along with its associated days of Lent (and for that matter, Mardi Gras). However, it is most certainly a Christian celebration of a Christian concept. There’s no pagan influence in how we celebrate Easter, right? The answer is not so cut and dry as we would like to think. There are three elements of the traditional American Easter celebrations that strike many people as odd. The profusion of rabbits, ducks and chickens is the big one. The inclusion of decorated eggs is another. Finally we have the name. The amazing inundation of pastel colors might be a fourth reason for some of us, but I’m afraid that is an unsolvable mystery.
There are a number of theories you will see on the internet or hear from people about the claim that the word Easter is a corruption of the name of the goddess Ishtar, a Mesopotamian goddess of love fertility and war. You’ll hear how there were eggs full of blood smashed on her alter, rabbits regarded as her sacred animals, and how the whole thing was a sacred ceremony celebrating her aspect of the goddess of spring fertility. Almost all of this is bunk. The animal that was most often associated with her is the lion and the only real time we find that big cat in Easter mythology is as a bit of a joke in a certain English candy companies commercials. While she did have a ceremony in the spring, it had little to nothing to do with eggs and mostly involved the equinox and a concept of sacred marriage which may have been anything from a ritual conjoining of the king and the high priestess to a city-state wide activity that resulted in a lot of births nine months later.
There may actually be a goddess who gave her name to Easter. Eostre is an Anglo Saxon goddess of fertility who has cognates with remarkably similar names throughout the Germanic pagan world. Most languages use their version of the word Pesach (פֶּסַח) which means Passover. Not surprisingly, the languages that use something similar to Easter are all in the Germanic family. In fact she may have been a version of the Norse goddess Freya.
The Easter Bunny may come by way of Eostre as well. What little we know of her and her various incarnations from around Europe tells us that the fecund little rabbit was one of her symbols. The version we have today probably stems from the Osterhase, an egg laying rabbit native to German vernal traditions dating back to the 1500s. According to the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung,
“A legend holds that a poor woman living in Germany decorated colorful eggs for her children to find in the garden. As soon as the hidden eggs were found by the children, a large hare was seen hopping away. The children thought the hare (Hase) left the eggs.”
There is no doubt that the legendary reproductive powers of the rabbits and hares have been linked to the fertility of spring, but I’m fairly certain the eggs came from somewhere else.
The egg association may have something stemming back to a pagan root. They can’t help but give one ideas about birth and renewal. However the practice of the Easter egg as we know it relates to the fact that for many years, eggs were on the list of foods forbidden to Lenten penitents. People would celebrate the return of eggs to their diet by giving them to each other as gifts. Decorating them began to become popular as well growing in to the modern dyed egg as well as the ornate Ukrainian eggs and even the priceless Faberge eggs.
It really doesn’t matter where the symbols come from. Many people will argue back and forth for centuries to come over the origins of every little word in every liturgy in every faith the world over if you let them. The important thing is to enjoy these festivities in the manner that pleases you best!
- The Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival & Lent by Tanya Gulevich R 349.2667 Gul