Here Comes Peter Cottontail! RUN!!!

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology

A reader writes:

Is there an ‘official’ Church teaching on the Easter Bunny?

Yes: The Easter Bunny is our friend.

I can explain how Santa Claus is St. Nicholas at Christmas to the kids (even though they now figure they should get gifts on St. Nicholas’ Feast Day Dec. 6 AND Christmas).

Yeah, kids’ll do that. I would if I were a kid.

It still seems odd to me on the great day of Easter Sunday, we give our children candy attached to the really bizarre story that a bunny delivered it.

Yeah, well, I’ve never been a fan of these society-wide conspiracies to deceive small children. Seems like a bad idea to me. Y’know, what with the lying and the deceiving an’ all. I think God said something about that once.

I mean, sure it’s fun an’ all to exploit the gullibility of children, the instinct that God built into them to trust what adults and–particularly–their parents tell them so that they’ll grow up and survive in the world. I mean, with that instinct in ’em, they’ll believe whatever nonsense you tell ’em, and you can have a real good chuckle at how they believe the most patently absurd stuff and how "cute" they are when they get all wide-eyed at the prospect of the imminent arrival of a non-existent magical being that you’ve got their expectations up for.

And I know it’s like a big happyfun game for adults to manufacture and plant false evidence that will reinforce their belief in the magical being and reinforce the attachment of their affections to the non-existent bestower-of-gifts.

But it still doesn’t seem to be a good idea to me.

Though don’t quote me on that because the Church doesn’t have an official teaching on this subject. I lied and decieved you when I told you that the Church teaches that the Easter Bunny is our friend. It actually doesn’t teach that. For all the Church says, the Easter Bunny could be the mortal enemy of mankind, ready to ascend from his sunken city of R’lyeh and destroy the human race and inaugurate a reign of murder and madness and mayhem. (Oh, wait. That’s Cthulhu, not the Easter Bunny.)

That being said, if you want a moral, ethical way to allow your children to have some fun with "the Easter Bunny experience," it seems to me that you could simply make it clear to them from the beginning that the Easter Bunny is make-believe and that it’s all just a happyfun game we can play as long as we remember that the real reason for Easter is that Our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead on that day.

Which is why–incidentally–the bit with the Easter eggs seems to have gotten started: In some places in prior years they didn’t eat eggs during Lent and so you had all these eggs at Easter that you needed to get rid of before they went bad, as many already had during Lent due to absence of refrigeration.

Oh, and remember to teach your children to bite the heads off chocolate bunnies first.

The Church is very firm on the need to do that.

Chocolate bunnies are the enemies of mankind.

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{ 30 comments }

Liam March 16, 2005 at 5:12 am

Smoke of heteropraxis! Not head-first, but tail-first. And you have to have a little bit saved to eat on Ascension Day.

Clayton Barnett March 16, 2005 at 5:12 am

If the Easter Bunny is C’thulu, does that make Peeps a Shoggoth?

Eric Giunta March 16, 2005 at 5:20 am

I think this issue is far more serious than we are making it out to be.
Is it, or is it not, a sin to lie to children about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny?
Even if the Church has no pronouncement on this, surely after centuries of these practices theologians, or even just educated Catholics, should know how already-existent Church teaching applies?
And it’s a dead-serious issue bcause it affects how many (most?) of the world’s parents parent.
It’s something that should be taken very seriously, and I find it hard to beleive that there’s no answer with regards to the morality of this.

Geoff March 16, 2005 at 5:28 am

If the Easter Bunny is C’thulu, does that make Peeps a Shoggoth?
Well, they are awfully hard to destroy.

Tim J. March 16, 2005 at 5:33 am

In the words of the late Ernest Worrel,
“I like to eat the EYES first!”

Jack Grimes March 16, 2005 at 5:41 am

As a child I really fell hard for the Santa Claus story.
As the natural skepticisms arose, I began to form my own experiments to confirm his existence (e.g., writing in my “personal letter” a code for him to put on his presents to me). I would debate my schoolfriends over the classic “what if there’s no chimney?” and “how does he have enough time?” challenges.
I was a regular St. Nick apologist. You might say I drank the Christmas kool-aid.
When the true truth became unavoidably obvious, sometime when I was 11, I was devastated.
Now, I know I am an exception and most children don’t invest that much emotional and intellectual committment to Santa Claus. But I have to wonder how many kids, after ditching Santa, start to wonder whether that other invisible, super-powerful gift-giver their parents tell them about (God) is just as made up.

Other Eric March 16, 2005 at 7:15 am

Hi Guys!
I was not brought up with the story of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. Like Eric Giunta, my parents believed that the deception involved was sinful and could lead me to question other aspects of Christmas and Easter. So I never had the sort of magical anticipation for these holidays that other parents encourage in their children.
In some respects it made me bitter. I had to be sent out of the room if the nuns were going to read the rest of the children a story about Santa. Every holiday season was filled with stern lectures not to tell other children the truth about Santa or the Easter Bunny. Other people’s childhood Christmas memories involve leaving cookies out for Santa in gleeful anticipation, mine involve sterile trips to the stores with my father pontificating on sinful materialism.
Now I admit, not every parent would need to treat the holidays in so extreme a fashion but no one I know of looks back on the deceptions that their parents orchestrated to get them to believe in flying reindeer with anything but warmth. Is there really a case of anyone losing their faith in Christ after finding out about the Easter Bunny? How much of a threat are these deceptions, really and how much of these fears really amount to paranoid armchair speculation?

ukok March 16, 2005 at 7:20 am

I’ve never eaten an Easter Bunny, they aren’t really that popular in my corner of the world…but if I did have one,I most definately would not start eating his butt first.
God Bless.

LawfulGood March 16, 2005 at 8:24 am

Bah Easter Bunny.
Bah Santa Clause.
As a young teen ager, I used to have a Caesar type power trip with my gummy bears. I’d line them up and say things like “Bring me that one! He has displeased me!” *CHOMP* *CHOMP*
I used to also make M&M’s fight to the death…
But…um… I’m better now… Honest! :)

BenYachov(Jim Scott 4th) March 16, 2005 at 8:30 am

What is weird is how the “Should we tell kids about Santa Claus” debate can get REALLY fierce. Indeed, it can make debates between Traditionalists & Conservatives on the New Mass look tame by contrast.
The break down is always SHOULD BUT TOLERATE THOSE WHO DON’T Vs DOGMATICALLY SHOULDN’T Vs. SHOULDN’T BUT TOLERATE THOSE WHO DO Vs SHOULD BUT CONDEMN ALL SHOULDN’Ts AS BEING AGAINST CHILDHOOD OR MAKE BELIEVE….etc..
It’s fun the time you can waste argueing over nothing.

Anonymous March 16, 2005 at 8:56 am

Did you write this late at night?

Jimmy Akin March 16, 2005 at 9:03 am

No, early at night. I was just in a silly mood.

Jimmy Akin March 16, 2005 at 9:06 am

If the Easter Bunny is C’thulu, does that make Peeps a Shoggoth?
Yes! Marshmallow Peeps are protoplasmic masses built by the Old Ones to be their slaves. In their tiny bird form, they fly through the sky sinisterly calling “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!”
In their protoplasmic mass form their favorite method of attack is to suck the heads off chocolate bunnies.

Steve D. Galvanek March 16, 2005 at 9:23 am

My wife and I struggled with this. But our experience with this since having children might help shed some light on why the church is not too heavy handed.
It might be helpful to start with the background that my wife was raised as an atheist (converted in adulthood) and her parents flatly told her that Santa wasn’t real, period! The funny thing is that she didn’t believe them (sheesh, parents can’t win!), but CHOSE to believe the stories of her peers because she WANTED it to be true. It seems that God has built in a healthy dose of fantasy, fairy tale and imagination for children and the line between fantasy and reality is very blurry for kids. My kids often have a hard time distinguishing between them regardless of whether it Santa Claus or Cinderella. This can be a VERY healthy thing for kids if it’s handled with care by parents and can often be a venue for explaining Christian truths. Chesterton wrote wonderfully on this in Orthodoxy.
All that being said, the view we took was to remain silent on the issue. We didn’t want to lie to our kids, but we also didn’t see any harm if the ‘picked up’ the fairy tale on their own. And…that’s exactly what happened. It only took a few viewings of Rudolph and Frosty for the kids to pick up the story and have some fun with it. And as long as it’s not overdone, that’s what I think most kids see it as, just a fun fairy tale. No fairy tale of this nature is evil or harmful in and of itself, only in how it’s used/abused. When the emphasis goes to Santa instead of Jesus, you have a problem. But it need not be so. That being the case (that at bottom, this is s neutral fairy tale that children can participate in), I think the church is extremely wise to NOT weigh in and leave parents the latitude to handle this as they see fit.

whimsy March 16, 2005 at 9:24 am

This last December, my girlfriend was careful to explain that St. Nicolas lived a very holy life, died, and now prays for us in Heaven.
Later, she was out shopping with her 4 yo son, and someone asked him if Santa Clause was going to give him presents because he’s been a good boy. He answered, “Santa Clause is dead.”
You can imagine the crusty look my girlfriend received for that!
heehee,
whimsy

Other Eric March 16, 2005 at 9:35 am

Hi Whimsy!
I’ve often threatened to tell children that Santa Claus was real but that he was dead and they could go visit his tomb in Italy if they really wanted to. Of course, I don’t really have any children of my own and simply do not care for them much.

Nick March 16, 2005 at 9:47 am

Just tell the truth. You’re children are entitled to that.
Don’t tell them to hide the truth. That’s self-defeating and erodes authority.
Be respectful of the opinion of others and teach your children to do the same.

Zhou De-Ming March 16, 2005 at 9:51 am

Where did the Easter Bunny come from?
It is apparently an American adaption of the Easter Hare, which became famous in Germany in the 16th or 17th century and came with immigrants to America.
[block quote]
In pagan times, the “Easter hare was no ordinary animal, but a sacred companion of the old goddess of spring, Eostre. Since long before Jesus Christ was born, parents told their children that the magic hare would bring them presents at the spring festival. The presents were often painted eggs, as these represented the new life starting at this time of year.” Hares are animals which look like rabbits, but are larger and in many countries quite rare. In most places, the Easter rabbit (bunny) has replaced the Easter hare completely.
The bunny was first used as a symbol of Easter in 16th century Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings. The first edible Easter bunnies, made primarily of pastry and sugar, were produced in Germany as well, during the early 1800s. Also in Germany, children made nests of grass and placed them in their yards. They believed the Easter Bunny would fill these baskets with brightly decorated eggs during the night.
SOURCE: Easter Handbook J394.26 W, p. 73
[end block quote]
Of course, the Easter Hare just would not work in America, as that is what is under your Easter Bonnet.
From a more “scholarly” account by a student of German culture:
[block quote]
In some German regions, children virtually “collect” Easter eggs from their relatives, especially their godparents. In general however, the customs relating to children’s gifts have also changed. What once were conventional little gifts have now become more or less “surprise presents,” where the “Easter Bunny” has been placed between the child and the giver. Small children believe that the Easter Bunny has brought and hidden the items. The Easter Bunny is less of an “educational” figure than is St. Nikolaus, for the eggs are not given as rewards for being good.
The custom of the “Easter Bunny” (Osterhase) hiding Easter eggs can be traced back to the year 1682. Rabbits were also connected to other Easter customs, maybe because they have their litters at the time and so appear more often in people’s gardens to nibble on the fresh greens. In the 19th century, the rabbit gradually became popular as the bringer of Easter presents, and in the first half of this century he finally won out over all competitors.
Some Easter egg games have been preserved at certain places in Germany and in the U.S., or they have been newly developed. Children try to outdo each other in rolling colored eggs down grassy slopes, or they knock the egg’s pointed ends together (Eierpecken) and the child whose egg does not shatter gets the broken egg too. And the family would eat hard-boiled eggs for weeks afterwards. Eggs with green sauce (German Grüne Sosse or Beiguss) is a post- Easter favorite.
[end block quote]
Apparently in France they just rang “Easter Bells” to announce the resurrection (after silence since Good Friday). Not nearly as much fun as the presents from the German bunny.

Other Paul March 16, 2005 at 10:42 am

“Is there really a case of anyone losing their faith in Christ after finding out about the Easter Bunny?”
It doesn’t matter whether there is or not. Lying is a sin whether it harms someone or not.

Tim J. March 16, 2005 at 11:04 am

Hey, no need to tell your children that Santa Claus is dead. T’aint so! St. Nicholas (and all saints) are most definitely alive in heaven and are there to intercede for us with prayers. Tell them he’s alive with Jesus in heaven. That’s what I tell my kids. I also tell them that, in his life on earth, St. Nick was very generous and gave people gifts (true) and that at Christmas we follow his example by giving each other gifts. In this way we are inspired by St. Nicholas to give Christmas presents, so he is behind them in some fashion. That makes us all, really, Santa’s Helpers. This helps to explain the relationship between the real story and the popular myth without just sucking all the magic out of it. And it’s true!

LawfulGood March 16, 2005 at 12:07 pm

I agree with Steve’s comments regarding children having a healthy fantasy life. I’ve spent a shameful amount of money on Star Trek and Justice League DVDs and we have a blast watching them. I even got my oldest a nice Green Lantern power ring for his birthday. He was flying around the house for weeks.
But the whole Easter Bunny, Santa Clause thing crosses the line, IMHO, because the subject is just too important. These events are holy. They should be kept separate for God and centered on Christ. Introducing secular fantasy into them just isn’t appropriate. Especially when bold faced lies and trumped up evidence are added to the mix.

Maureen March 16, 2005 at 10:24 pm

Lies and playacting and storytelling are all different things, folks.
Now, there are people out there who clearly have crossed the line into lying about the existence of Santa Claus. But telling kids a story about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy is _not_ lying. You just have to make sure that you’ve clearly established previously that sometimes you tell stories about things that have really happened, and sometimes you tell stories about things that really haven’t.
Similarly, if you want to play extended makebelieve games involving St. Nick and presents, the Easter Bunny and hidden eggs, or your D&D character sending the kids letters from Sword&SorceryLand, there’s no harm and no foul as long as that’s how you present it to the kids — as a game.
Now, my dad has a very dry sense of humor. So we kids learned early on that, although Dad would never lie to us, he might make jokes with an extremely straight face and tone of voice. It was for us to figure out that dessert did not in fact contain arsenic. And somehow we did manage this, and in time to eat dessert, too. And of course, figuring out what kind of situation you’re in and whether a statement should be taken seriously is a crucial survival skill for all human beings. Kids learn this through play.
As for Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, we all figured out eventually and individually that it had all been a game. And of course none of us told any of our siblings who hadn’t figured it out; that would have spoiled the game.
Maureen

Brian March 17, 2005 at 6:01 am

I have a book on Catholic sacramentals. In it, it explains that eggs reminded early Christians of life springing forth from something that is apparently dead.
Likewise, the rabbit was the most fertile animal known in early times, and so it was seen as a sign of abudant life.
Jimmy?

Michelle & John March 19, 2005 at 7:42 pm

Quote of the Day

This almost made me spit out my coffee: “The Easter Bunny could be the mortal enemy of mankind, ready to…

Small But Disorganized March 26, 2005 at 4:35 pm

Beware The Bunny!

You know how some kids are afraid of going to see “Santa” and/or the “Easter Bunny”. Maybe there’s a reason! Kids are sensitive to these things. According to Jimmy Akin:
the Easter Bunny could be the mortal enemy of mankind, ready to ascend fr…

berenike March 29, 2005 at 6:10 am

My friend’s wee brother learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real. A few hours later he come to her and asked if Jesus was just a story too. He was quite shaken.(I think he got over the crisis, but someone did ask if this sort of thing happened).

Elizabeth Lapicola March 16, 2006 at 2:04 pm

17 years from now in 2006 I will be having ideas for a carttoon show ! But now My horror movie Santa Claus Killer parady idea is caming mainstream after 1984 for almost 22 years now !

bill912 March 16, 2006 at 2:22 pm

Can anybody translate this?

Inocencio March 16, 2006 at 4:25 pm

Bill912,
The email address for Elizabeth Lapicola and joseph james is the same. And I could not understand either post let alone translate them for you.
Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

bill912 March 16, 2006 at 6:40 pm

Oh, that explains it: it’s written in Denebian.

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