I've been 'cyber eavesdropping' on a couple of 'easter' discussions taking place in online discussion groups. The thread of the conversations led me hunting the archives of my digital data banks to find this story I wrote several years ago in response to 'the meaning of Easter'. At the time, i had a public space called 'The Story Centre', a limb of the 'Once Upon An Island Charitable Trust and we regularly ran programmes, events and workshops engaging with story in all her manifestations and the celebrations & beliefs associated with them.Easter has many stories - ones of rebirth, Spring, new life, resurrection, harvest, rabbits/hares, chocolates, ancient goddesses, moons and more. It is a significant festival in the Christian faith but its celebration long predated the birth of Christ. As a lover, collector and sharer of stories what I often witness (through my story -tinted spectacles) is a battle for story supremacy. The 'my story is the only true story.' claim. When in fact a story is just that - 'a story' - true for the teller if she speaks it without intentional deceit and yet untrue the minute she tries to enforce its 'truth' on others, especially when it is at the expense of other 'true stories'. Stories are the human forest of imagining and meaning making. We should enjoy them for what they are.
Grandmother rabbit had called a meeting under the biggest and oldest Totara tree. Not just a meeting of the rabbits but of all the animals. The birds, the rats, the possums, the ferrets, the stoats – the animals who were first known to the bush and those that had arrived later. It was a funny hotch-potch of a neighborhood that crowded on the branches of the great tree and clustered about the forest floor. Claws, beaks, tails, pouches, ears and feathers. For better or worse they had grown to live together in amongst the trees not always harmoniously but with an understanding.
“Quiet please,” Grandmother rabbit called from her slightly elevated position up on fallen tree trunk. The din of chirping, squawking, hissing and flapping began to subside. They could tell by the straightness of her whiskers that she had something important to say.
“As many of you will be aware, soon it will be the human celebration of Easter,” began the old rabbit.
The very mention of the word human sent a wave of tittering through the menagerie. It was generally agreed that humans were best avoided. They were an unpredictable bunch, difficult to understand. They had been known to steal bird’s eggs only to turn up months later with fledglings that nobody remembered hatching. Their offerings of food were not to be trusted – sometimes harmless other times deadly poisonous. They chopped down trees only to plant other ones, terrified animals by catching them only to release them again. And of course there were the guns and traps. No, it went without saying, that humans were best avoided.
Easter however was the exception.
It had started with the rabbits. No one could remember an Easter before they arrived. But every year since the rabbits had come to live in the bush, when summer ended the rabbits began a very extraordinary ritual. And it truly was egg-stra-ordinary. Begging from the birds those eggs that had not hatched in spring, the rabbits used them to make moulds from which they created brightly coloured chocolate eggs which they then hid for the human children to find.
Some of the birds had remained deeply suspicious of Easter, giving their dud eggs reluctantly. Why eggs? All the animals knew that neither humans nor rabbits could lay eggs.
“It’s a crazy celebration, “ muttered the Pukekos who were often out spoken, “ rabbits giving humans eggs. What use is an egg to a human or a rabbit.”
There was an awkward silence .All the animals knew humans liked to eat eggs. Just like the rats, the ferrets and the stoats.
“I’ve told you before, “sighed Grandmother rabbit wearily, “ the eggs are symbolic.”
Grandmother rabbit often used big words that made little sense.
“Eggs and rabbits mean life for ‘seconds’,” she explained.
The animals referred to the humans as the ‘firsts and the seconds’. Those who came first and those who came later, the ‘seconds’.
“There’s not much life in an egg if you eat it,” chirped mother Tui casting and accusing eye at the rats and ferrets below her, who were remaining unusually quiet.
The other birds cheeped in agreement. An egg needed to be kept warm and safe if it was to hatch and give life.
“Life eats life,” snapped Grandmother rabbit, twitching her whiskers in annoyance, “ anyway I’ve told you this story a hundred times…”
“Tell us again,” cried the younger animals who all loved these human things called stories.
"All right, “ sighed Grandmother rabbit. She rested back on her old tattered tail and began to tell the story. “Once long ago in lands far north from here where the ‘seconds’ first came from, there was a spring goddess…
“What’s a goddess?” piped a small possum voice from the depths of a warm pouch.
Grandmother rabbit screwed her face up in thought, “It’s when humans give natural things a human shape.”
“What’s wrong with the shape the shape they’ve got?” came the little curious voice again.
Grandmother rabbit continued, “there was a goddess of spring called Eostre. Her companion was the hare, which is like a very big rabbit…”
“Why a rabbit,” came another voice this time from somewhere down on the ground.
“Because rabbits are good at making lots of other rabbits. They make life,” huffed Grandmother rabbit hoping she wasn’t going to have to explain in too much detail.
“Ferrets can do that,” interrupted a young male ferret.
“And possums,” another voice from the branches.
Suddenly the meeting erupted into a roar and screech of boasts and grandmother rabbit’s story was lost.
Grandmother rabbit thumped her strong back legs on the tree truck loudly and she shouted, “I am not saying anything about the story being right. I am just telling you the story. Now, do you want to hear it?”
There was a hush and the old rabbit continued.
“After the dying time when all things grow quiet, when the earth wakes from her sleep, Eostre was thought to bring gifts of eggs which were a symbol of new life. Over the years the eggs became chocolate eggs which were hidden for the human children to find. But…” Grandmother rabbit paused, “it’s all wrong and that’s why I’ve called this meeting.” The old rabbit suddenly stopped and looked quite exhausted.
There was a silence and then Ruru the owl piped up, “You’re quite right rabbit. It is all wrong. If they want eggs they should lay their own.”
“No it’s not that, “rabbit replied, “ it’s just that it’s the wrong time of year for eggs. It’s all upside down.”
The animals thought. Grandmother rabbit was right. No bird laid eggs at this time of year. All the nests were empty. The young birds had hatched in spring and had flown the nests. All that was left now was broken eggs shell and dry leaves.
Grandmother rabbit continued, “It’s not the time of new life. It’s the time of ripened life. It’s time to fatten up and stock up for the dying time.”
The animals nodded is agreement. Everywhere they looked around them they could see what that what the old rabbit was saying was true. The trees were fruiting, there were berries on the bushes and fat ripe seed heads on the grasses.
“Easter is a bit like us, the rabbits. We’re not from this place but now we live here and so the story needs to change. We need a new story -something old and something new…”
“What do you mean?” There was a chorus of curious voices.
“Well, Easter is an old story. It belongs to another place but it also belongs to the people who bought it here. It tells the story of the place where they used to live. But that story isn’t the story of this place. We need a new story that has both parts. We could keep the eggs to remember the old story but we need a new part, a part that comes from this place. We need a new egg deliverer. The rabbit’s time has finished.”
There were a few surprised gasps and then silence again as the animals thought about what grandmother rabbit had said.
“We could deliver the eggs,” said the rats and ferrets a little too eagerly.
“I don’t think so,” laughed Grandmother rabbit, “there wouldn’t be any eggs for anyone.”
“Give the job to the birds, we can be trusted with the eggs,” called Keruru, Tui and Piwaiwaka from the trees branches.
“You’re offer is kind but you are day birds. The eggs must be delivered at night when the children are sleeping. You would get lost in the dark and perhaps have an accident.”
“How about the possums?” suggested a young rabbit, “They can see in the dark and they even have pouches were they could carry the eggs.”
Grandmother rabbit thought about this but then shook her old grey head. “The new part of the story should come from this place.”
“I could do it.” A small voice came from high up in the branches of the old totara tree.
“ I’ve got big ears like a rabbit and fur. I’ve wings like a bird but I don’t lay eggs. I can see in the dark. I’m fast and what’s more I’m upside down just like Easter is in this place.”
All of a sudden there was a flutter from the branches and down flew peka peka, bat.
All of the animals cheered, “Bat would be the perfect Easter egg deliverer.”
Grandmother rabbit smiled. The Easter peka peka. A new story was born.
That year as always the birds supplied the eggs. The rabbits painted and the bats delivered. On Easter Sunday the children woke up early and ran outside to search for the hidden eggs in the grass, under bushes and behind stones. They were very surprised to find Easter eggs hidden up in the trees. They puzzled, “Had rabbits learnt how to climb trees?”
But now you know. It wasn’t the Easter bunny it was the Easter batty – bats an exciting new Easter story -don’t you think?