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The Easter Hare

from Fairy Tales From The German Forests





It is curious how little children of one country know about the lives
and interests of the children of another. Perhaps if English people
would send their children over to Germany, instead of their journalists,
singers, etc., the danger of an International war would be lessened. The
children would be sure to fall in love with Germany; for it is the land
above all others that appeals to children. Women are said to come first
in America, children are certainly the first consideration in Germany.
Froebel's motto: "Come let us live with our children," is nowhere better
carried out.

A little English girl, named Patsie, came over to visit her German
friends, Gretel and Barbara, shortly before Easter this year; and she
was much surprised to find all the shop-windows filled with hares; hares
made of chocolate, toy hares, hares with fine red coats on, hares
trundling wheelbarrows or carrying baskets full of Easter eggs. Moreover
there was no end to the picture post cards representing the hare in
various costumes, and in some connection with Easter eggs. One of these
post cards represented a hare crawling out of a large broken egg just
like a chicken.

Patsie asked her little friends eagerly what this all meant.

"Who is the Hare?" she said. "I do so want to know all about him."

"Why, of course, it is the Easter Hare," they replied.

"Is it possible that you have not heard of him? O, you poor English
children! Why, he brings us the eggs on Easter Sunday morning!" said
Gretel.

"O don't you know," said Barbara, "he hides them in the garden, unless
it rains or is very wet; then we have to stay in our bedrooms for fear
of frightening him, and he lays them downstairs in the dining-room or
drawing-room. However, this has only happened once since I was born, and
I am nine years old; it must be always fine at Easter."

"We have to let all the blinds down before he will come into our garden,
he is so dreadfully nervous," said Gretel. "Then he hides the eggs in
the most unexpected places, we have to hunt and hunt a long time before
we have found them all. Last year we discovered an egg some weeks
afterwards; luckily it was a glass one filled with sweeties; for if it
had been of chocolate, we could not have eaten it, after it had lain on
the damp mould, where the snails and worms would have crawled over it.
Some of the eggs are made of chocolate or marzipan or sugar, and some
are real eggs coloured blue or red or brown, or even sometimes with
pictures on them."

"We had two dear little baskets with dollies in them, and a big Easter
Hare made of gingerbread, as well as the eggs this year," said Barbara.
"We hunt and hunt in every corner of the garden, and then we divide our
treasures afterwards on two plates, so that is quite fair."

"You are lucky children, why does not the Hare come to England?" said
Patsie. "I am sure little English children would appreciate him too!"

"Well," said Gretel answering in verse:

"My dear mother says to me,
That he will not cross the sea;
That he fears his eggs would break
And his precious goods might shake.

He's a fairy you must know,
Little Barbara tells you so;
When he cocks his ears and blinks,
Then of Easter eggs he thinks."

"Yes," interrupted Barbara, "we really and truly saw him one Easter
Sunday morning when we came back from church, just at the end of our
street, where the gardens join the fields. He had a friend with him, or
perhaps it was Mrs Easter Hare. They both looked very alarmed when they
saw us, and tore off as fast as they could scuttle, and hid in the
corn-fields. I can't remember if he had his red coat on, can you,
Gretel?"

"No I don't think he had, he was quietly dressed in his brown fur suit,
with a white tail to the coat," said Gretel.

Now mother had been puzzled for some time to think whatever connection
there could be between Easter Day and the Hare, and she could not find
out. But the other day a kind friend told her: she could never have been
able to think of it herself, it is such a queer reason. The legend is
that as the Hare always sleeps with its eyes open, it was the only
living creature that witnessed the Resurrection of our Blessed Lord, and
therefore for ever afterwards it has become associated with Easter.

The Easter egg is easier to account for; the idea there is, that as the
little chicken breaks through the hard shell, and awakes to new life, so
Christ broke the bars of death on the first glorious Easter morning. So
the simple egg has become a symbol or sign of a great heavenly truth.
Even little children can understand this if they think about it, and
they will be able to find out other things too that are symbols in the
same way.

"One year," said Barbara to Patsie, "we spent Easter Sunday at a farm in
the country. We made beautiful nests of moss all ready for the Easter
Hare. And just when father had called to us to come out and look for the
eggs, we saw to our disgust that the great pigs with their dirty old
snouts were already hunting for them, so we rushed down and had to drive
them away first. The geese too seemed to want to join in the game; it
was fine fun, I can tell you. We filled our pinafores with the eggs."

"When we got home again, we found the Easter Hare had been there too; so
we were finely spoilt that year," said Gretel.

* * * * *

Several weeks before Easter this year, before Patsie came to stay with
them, Gretel and Barbara went for an afternoon walk in the fields with
their father and mother. It was getting late when they returned; white
mists were rising over the River Nidda, until the trees in the distance
looked like ghosts. There was a strange feeling in the air, as if
something were going to happen; the children felt excited without
knowing why. Then they suddenly saw a bright light not far off from
them, along the path by the river. It seemed to revolve, then to change
its position, then it went out altogether. They thought they saw the
crouching form of a man beside the light; indeed father said that it was
probably a labourer lighting his pipe; but, when they looked again, it
was unmistakably a bush that had taken a human form in the twilight. The
children instinctively fell back nearer the grown-ups. There was
something creepy about that bush.

Suddenly a weird cry, shrill and piercing, broke the silence. It seemed
to come from just in front of them, and sounded awful; as if a baby were
being murdered. The children clutched hold of father's hand. "It was all
right as long as father and mother were there," they thought with the
touching confidence of children.

No one could imagine what it was. The stretching, ploughed fields on one
side could hide nothing, the little path along the river-bank was
clearly visible. As they approached the spot whence the crying had
seemed to proceed, all was silent again. Gretel had heard of the magic
flower Moly which screamed when it was pulled up by the roots; could
there be screaming bushes as well? But the cries had seemed to come from
the ploughed field, not from the river.

The sun had gone down, the air became darker and chillier. Suddenly the
cry began again; this time it seemed to proceed directly from an empty
tin lying near them on the ploughed field, broken and upside down. The
children stared with wide-open eyes at this mysterious old tin: they
could not make head or tail of it, of the tin I mean.

Then mother stooped and picked up a piece of egg-shell coloured a
beautiful red, that lay on the path, and held it up triumphantly. "What
do you say to that?" she asked the children.

"Why, it is a piece of a broken Easter egg, how queer," said the
children, "such a long time before Easter too."

"Do you know what I think?" said mother, almost in a whisper. "I think
the Easter Hare has been along here, perhaps he lives here, and that tin
hides the entrance to his house."

"Let's go and see," said the children. But at this moment the cries
broke out again, coming just from their very feet it seemed. They
sounded so uncanny that the children did not dare to move, or to
investigate the tin.

"If you disturb him now, you certainly will not get any Easter eggs this
year," said mother. "He's sure to be very busy painting them just now, I
dare say he cries like that to frighten you away from his home."

"I don't think so," said father, "he can hide and hold his tongue if he
wants to; it is the little baby hares who make that noise; but just as
we pass by, the mother hare manages to keep them quiet for a few minutes
by giving them something to put in their little mouths, I expect."

"I would like to see them," said Barbara.

"No, come along, Barbara," said Gretel, "leave them alone, it would be
horrid to get no Easter eggs wouldn't it?"

* * * * *

For many nights Barbara dreamt of the Easter Hare, and at last she made
up the following story about him, which she wrote out beautifully in
flowing German handwriting in an exercise-book. I thought little English
girls and boys would like to hear a story written by a little German
girl of nine years. So I have translated it for them here. It will give
them a good idea too of how the Easter Hare is regarded by German
children.





Next: The Easter Hare Family

Previous: The Dragon's Tail



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