Is the Easter Bunny a Bad Bunny?
Is the Easter bunny a Bad Bunny? I found myself wondering about this during an Easter week road trip with my son and daughter-in-law, both fans of the highly acclaimed Puerto Rican rap artist Bad Bunny. The Easter bunny had been much on my mind, due to the fact that the mayor of my small city in Massachusetts had recently welcomed the mythical creature to city hall to distribute candy to children.
For much of the 20th century, the city I live in was a predominately Italian-American and Irish-American community. In other words, primarily Roman Catholic.
Except that it wasn’t, really. We have one of the largest and most successful neighborhoods of free African Americans in the United States, dating back to the time of the American Revolution. Most of these families are part of a Christian tradition, but not necessarily Roman Catholic. Brazilian and Haitian immigrants have brought further Christian diversity to the city in the present day.
We also have have a significant Jewish community dating back to the early 20th century. The first Jewish family arrived prior to 1910, according to the website of our local synagogue. By the 1930s, plans were underway to build a synagogue here in town, and when the building opened in 1959, some 1500 people came to the dedication. In other words, our city has had a significant Jewish community for over 60 years.
Today, we have an Islamic Cultural Center in the city’s main square, as well.
Nonetheless, for many decades people of Italian and Irish descent have controlled the city’s government, both as elected and appointed officials. That has started to change, but we still have a long way to go. Over the winter holidays, many people were outraged when the city added an exhibit of a seven-branched candelabra of messianic Judaism (rather than a nine-branched menorah) to “balance” the Christmas display at city hall. The public outcry on the part of Jews and their supporters, as well as people concerned about church/state separation within city government, led to a meeting with the mayor and promise on her part to do better when it came to recognizing diversity within our city.
And yet this spring, we received a notice that the mayor would be greeting the Easter bunny at city hall. I belong to a group whose focus is protecting the rights and safety of everyone in the city, regardless of religious views or traditions. Some of us were outraged (again) by the notice of the Easter bunny. One member pointed out that there had been no announcement of a visit from Queen Esther, a figure associated with the Jewish early spring holiday of Purim. Nor had the city made any official acknowledgment of Passover or Ramadan, which also overlapped with Easter this year.
One of our members argued that while she was not Christian herself, she had many happy childhood memories of the Easter bunny. Others noted that the Easter bunny as a symbol of spring predates Christianity and recognized that going after the Easter bunny would trigger a significant backlash. I’d add that the White House Easter Egg Roll makes opposition to the city hall observance difficult, while at the same time noting that President Biden offered official statements recognizing Passover, Ramadan, and Orthodox Easter, which our city government failed to do.
But any truly inclusive effort to celebrate spring holidays must recognize that the Easter season has historically been a time of heightened anti-Semitism. The present upswing in anti-Semitism in the United States as well as the rest of the world carries an obligation to recognize and combat this tendency as part of any Easter observance, in my opinion.
I don’t want to sound curmudgeonly. Spring is a wonderful season, but the public sphere should look at its meaning in different traditions. In the pagan tradition (that has been incorporated into the Christian Easter through the symbols of bunnies and eggs), it is a time of rebirth and renewal. For Christians, it is a celebration of salvation and forgiveness. For Jews, it is a time to rejoice in liberation and freedom. And Ramadan, which is not always a spring holiday, but was this year, is a commemoration by Muslims all over the world through fasting and good deeds for the revelation of God’s word.
Which brings me back to my original question. Is the Easter bunny a Bad Bunny? I would say that the bunny is okay, but only if we recognize the context and the history in which the observance of these spring holidays occur. To quote the Bad Bunny himself, porque hay heridas no sanan de la noche de la manana (because there are wounds that don’t heal overnight).