A couple of weeks ago I had the most enlightening conversation with a fellow employee at work, Bill. Bill and I ate lunch together one of the Thursdays that I was at work. We took the elevator down from the 5th floor of HanWei Plaza to the second basement level where the building’s cafeteria was waiting for us. On the way, we began talking as we frequently do about our past week or plans for the upcoming weekend. We had to halt the conversation for a moment as we entered the cafeteria to fill our trays with piles of interesting Chinese cafeteria food and rice (I tend to take extra servings of rice).
We sat down and continued our talk. Bill alerted me that the upcoming weekend was a Chinese Holiday – tomb-sweeping day. He explained that he would go with his family on Sunday to the graves of his elder family members and “sweep” their tombs. The holiday is meant to allow people a day to clean their deceased loved ones’ graves and pay their respects. Not everyone in China actually follows through with the tradition of the holiday, but everyone gets the Monday after the weekend off of work. Bill explained that it was only recently made into a national holiday.
His story inspired me to mention that Easter Sunday would be the following weekend. I asked Bill if he knew anything about Easter. He said he did and gave me back the watered down religious significance of the holiday. Though not prescribed to any religion, Bill understood the significance of the story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. He then asked me what most American do on that day. Without hesitation I began to describe some of the common Easter traditions that my family practices: egg coloring, Easter egg hunts, giving chocolate, and eating a meal with the extended family. As I described some of this, Bill stared at me with the most confused look.
He asked me, “So, do you eat these eggs.” I laughed and said, “Well, no. We just color them, hide them, and then look for them.” As I said this, I began to realize this was somewhat of an odd tradition. Bill’s face said the same thing as my thoughts. Eggs make sense since they represent fertility and birth. Looking for them seems to have some relation to the story of Jesus’ resurrection. I then explained that little children are told that the “Easter Bunny” hides the eggs. This raised Bills eyebrows even more. He said, “Bunny’s don’t lay eggs. Why a bunny?” I had nothing. Why a bunny? What a great question. I would later research this. I told him I didn’t understand it, but it was kind of like Santa Clause. I’m not sure if that really helped.
I then added that we often exchange chocolate on Easter, especially chocolate bunnies. Bill responded, “So this is like Valentines Day. Why do Americans like chocolate so much?” I had to laugh. Again, I was slightly perplexed at my own cultural traditions. I could only shrug my shoulders. With that we mostly concluded our talk and went back to eating our rice and mush.
I discovered, through some extensive reading on Wikipedia, that the bunny has significance in old folktales from Germany. The nests that hares would build resembled those of a certain bird. Thus, it was written into some folktales that hares laid eggs. Somehow this worked its way into the Easter tradition.
Bill’s ignorance with respect to American cultural traditions was a blessing. It helped me look back at my family and myself. It mostly made me laugh at the absurdity of some traditions we have. Nonetheless, it provided a new perspective for me.
Wikipedia article on the Easter Bunny: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Bunny