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Sunday, March 24

Shedding Christianity

Most Pagans of a certain age were not born into the faith.  They are converts.  In the wide world of religion, modern Paganism is pretty new, so that's to be expected.  After all, this very blog operates under the idea that our children are the second generation of Pagans and so of course they're parents are "newbies". 

As we learn the ropes (or braid them ourselves) we take steps to "become" more Pagan and less of whatever it is that we came from.  For a majority of us, our backgrounds are Christian or Catholic.  We know what the Christian holidays are, we're well aware of who Satan and Jesus are, and we have a pretty good idea of what heaven and hell are.   We know a little bit about sins, commandments, baptism, and what the Bible is. 

Some of us grew up with Christianity so engrained in our subconscious that our speech reflects it.  How many Pagans do you know that still say things like "God, Damn It!", "Jesus Christ!", or "Go to hell!" when they're agitated?  How many still offer a "God Bless You" when you sneeze?  Probably quite a few.

After we put on our first pentagrams and started to get odd looks in the supermarket, this growing awareness of Christian resistance developed.  If you transitioned in an area like Mama Stacey did, you may have been legitimately harassed or even physically intimidated for your new choice in faith... making your fondness of (and patience for) Christians fade quickly.

And some of us came to look into the history of witchcraft or Pagan cultures and many of us turned quite sour towards our old faith.  "Never Again the Burning Times!" right?  "Freedom of religion means ALL religions!" right? 


I have a sort of personal guideline about this 'phase' of conversion.  For me, the more angry a Pagan is at Christianity, the newer they are to the Pagan faith.  Most of us who have been Pagan since forever have moved on.  We don't pick apart the Bible or start conversations with "Christians are so.... blah-blah-blah."  We're too busy being Pagans to keep looking back all the time.

Anyway, this growing dislike of Christianity helped some of us plow ahead on our path to identifying as Pagan.  We rejected the idea of Satan and may have put stickers like "It's your hell, you burn in it." on our cars or posted clipart of Christian hypocrisy on our social feeds.  Eventually we jumped into chatroom conversations to correct people's ideas of Paganism or offered the Pagan roots to things like Christmas trees and Easter eggs.

[img source: AzureGreen]

This is the shedding of Christianity and as with any ending, there is a grieving process.  It's like a death or even a bad break-up.  We take it in stages, only instead of somberly packing our grandmothers things away into boxes or cutting our ex out of all of our photographs, we begin to dismiss or dissect the parts of Christianity that we don't like.  Instead of getting a haircut or buying a new outfit to make ourselves feel better, we start to replace "amen" with "so mote it be" and start to light incense at night and get serious about reading runes and trying to meditate.

One of the last steps in this shedding process seems to be saying goodbye to the parts of Christianity we liked.  For many, this would be the holidays.  Afterall, they were happy times and for some, still may be.  There's presents, food, music, and cheer.  What's not to like?

Now, I've written about my personal journey through this before (Leaving Christmas Behind), but if you haven't read it, here it is in a nutshell:  Until I had Doodle Bug, it never occurred to me to NOT celebrate Easter or Christmas with my family.  There I was, a self-proclaimed Pagan, singing carols about Jesus and attending Palm Sunday church services with my mother.  But after my son's birth, the conflict of interest hit me and I tried for many years to make the switch.  It was not an easy process and we still seem to miss a sabbat here or there, but the point is that I try to make sure my son knows the holy days of his faith and impress upon him their importance above and beyond Christian holidays.  

My experience is far from an isolated phenomenon.  Pagans, like others in minority faiths, struggle to block out Christian holidays.  Easter and Christmas are almost secular in America.  Visit a store, turn on the tv, or take a stroll through your neighborhood... you almost can't escape the imagery.  Now, if you're in the broomcloset still, or living in an isolated area, or living in a home where your spouse is not a Pagan... it may be easier to simply go with the flow.  You could shrug and say to yourself, "It all has Pagan roots" as you pull on a reindeer sweater and play that Bing Crosby CD. 

But after a while, is it really that simple?  As a Pagan singing about Jesus at Christmas, can you really believe that "it all has Pagan roots" cuts the mustard?  Do you think that that same philosophy works for your children?

Mama Stacey doesn't.  As Steven Posch said, "...you can’t gull kids. They’ll see the gap between what you say and what you do every time. Authentic paganism isn’t just a religion; it’s a culture. Kids need to grow up with the songs, the stories, the foods, the holidays. . . . All this gives texture, richness, a sense of identity."

It gets under my skin when Pagan friends wish me a Merry Christmas or when my Pagan neighbor makes up an Easter basket for her 22 year old daughter and cooks a ham dinner for her on Easter Sunday.  (Apparently, it annoyed her daughter too.  This year, the young lady told her mother not to do any of it, insisting that if she was going to celebrate a holiday, it was going to be Ostara and only Ostara.  I was so proud!)

It's my opinion that Pagans should celebrate Pagan holidays.  But I understand that this transfer takes time and is a personal journey for each and every one of us first generation-ers.  I have never told my Pagan neighbor that she was wrong for celebrating Easter.  I have never sent back a Christmas card to a Pagan friend, criticizing them for being Pagans who send a card with the nativity on it to us.  Mama Stacey feels pretty strongly on this subject and yet it still took me about a decade to make the full switch.

Believe me, I an NOT here to force Pagans to give up holidays that they either don't want to or are not ready to.  But... I stumbled across something on the internet today (Facebook to be exact) that struck a nerve.  A page entitled "Wiccan Parents" had the following displayed as their image or splash. 

The Wiccan Parents page on Facebook, March 24th 2013.

As a community resource, I feel that organizations like Facebook groups and informational websites should hold themselves to higher "standards" in their reflection of Paganism to the world.  Even if Wiccan Parents somehow claimed that the use of the word Easter is interchangeable with the word Ostara due to some ill-conceived play on etymology... I see this as massively confusing for their target  audience.  As a resource and tool for Wiccan parents who need support as they form and define the Pagan world for their children, images like this are completely unhelpful.

Wiccan Parents is not the only page/organization/website that makes habitual faux-pas like this.  Other Pagan parenting sites have been posting about the Easter plans of their followers and I've been trying to ignore it... trying to be a good sport.  I simply don't feel that faceless pages which set themselves up as authorities and position themselves as an outreach should be misrepresenting Wicca or any other Pagan faith so blatently.

Alright... end of hoity-toity rant.  I hope that however you and your family have chosen to usher in the season of spring this past week, that you had a lovely time.

Love and light to all.

A Timeline of the Goddess "Ostara"

Is Ostara an ancient goddess from Europe?  Is she actually named Ester/Eostre and of Norse heritage?  Was there a goddess at all?  Or was this actually just an old word for "springtime"?  Was she just a smudge of ancient sarcasm that was taken too seriously by some?   

Mama Stacey took a dig through some history and invites you to take a look.



725 BCE

The Venerable Bede, a Northumbrian monk, publishes a work titled "De Temporum Ratione" (On the Reckoning of Time).  Within this work, he features a chapter that attempts to explain the origins of the names of English calendar months.  This chapter features two sentences regarding the Easter season:   

“Eosturmonath [April] has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate the Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”

And that’s it.  That’s the first written record of Eostre.   

Since it's writing, Bede's comments have been dashed by scholars from the age of medieval academia through to today’s anthropological researchers.  Why?  Well, for starters, the conversion to Christianity had been complete for over a century when Bede wrote his book, and yet De Temporum Ratione is littered with the names of obscure Pagan goddesses.  Researchers have performed scholarly acrobatics in an attempt to trace the existence of these goddesses, but have had very little success. 

In general, although Bede seemed to enjoy writing about Pagan practices and rituals, the information he provides is considered questionable.  It is now viewed by some in the academic world as either a tongue-in-cheek reference or a whimsical flourish at best. 

Supporters of Bede, however, point to the surviving linguistic fossils within English and German language, citing that the word for the Christian Resurrection holiday in both languages (Easter and Ostern, respectively) could viably be descendent from the word 'Eostre'.  For some scholars, it makes sense that an Anglo-Saxon (a blend of early British and German peoples) term would filter solely into modern English and German language, especially in light of the fact that the word for the holiday in most other languages and cultures is derived from the Hebrew word Pesach (think Passover). 


1835 CE

Jacob Grimm (yes, that Grimm) wrote a piece which tried to trace the origins of the German Ostern.  He decided Bede’s goddess Eostre was the root word, however reconstructed the word in German to be “Ostara”.  Yes, Grimm himself invented the word we use to this day.

Grimm was a firm believer in Bede’s goddess and wrote to support it, although he makes some pretty severe academic leaps while doing so.  His writings used many phrases such as “must have”, “probably”, “might have”, and “seems to”.  Grimm’s works were notoriously willy-nilly in their fact checking… so much so that when Grimm put out the second version of his book on German grammar he noted in the preface that he had gladly torn the first version to pieces and that the new version was a complete rewrite.  

Ultimately, Grimm supports Bede’s goddesses by noting that a devout Christian probably wouldn’t have been in the business of creating Pagan deities on a whim. 



This idea is supported by modern scholars like Audrey Meaney who wrote that Bede was probably surrounded by older monks who had a wealth of information regarding the Pagans.  However modern decriers, like that of Raymond Ian Page, cite the act of historical romanticism as probable evidence that Bede was not inaccurate only in his writings of Paganism, but also in his writings of Christian history.  Page cites evidence that Bede romanticized the ousting of Pagan priests, mass baptisms and forced conversion when historical documentation shows the process was far from bloodless, easy, or pleasant for most.  


1859 CE

Georg Zappert, an unaccredited literary scholar, announced that he had found a portion of a 9th or 10th century manuscript which included five lines of an Old High German lullaby on it.  Translated, the fourth verse reads “Ostra for the child leaves, honey and sweet eggs.”  

"Althochdeutsches Schlummerlied", the Old High German Lullaby
 Unfortunately, Zappert had been suspected of previous literary forgeries and this one was no different.  It is generally agreed to be a forgery, although Grimm believed so much in the lullaby that he was to write a defense of the piece, but never did.  Zappert died that same year and the matter has been left to scholarly debate.


1882 CE

Jacob Grimm puts out another revision of his work “Deutsche Mythologie” (Teutonic Mythology) which includes an etymological analysis of the word Ostara.  He links the word to the Norse ‘austr’, the Old High Germanôstar’, and the Gothic ‘áustr’.  These words all correlate to the rising sun.  

Trying to relate this back to the existence of an ancient goddess, Grimm quotes from the Prose Edda, a collection of Icelandic poetry which includes the Gylfaginning (The Tricking of Gylfi).  The story includes a character named Austri, one of four dwarves or spirits in Norse mythology who hold up the sky.  Austri is most commonly placed in the East, where the sun rises.  Grimm suggests that there may have been a feminine version of Austri named Austra and that she was an Old Saxon goddess of the dawn.  He proposes no other backing for the claim however and further suggests that she is little known because her cult would have died out before Norse culture was in full swing.



1959 CE

Scholar J. Knoblach links the word Eostre to the name of a regional Christian feast in the spring and not a goddess.


1970s CE

Modern Germanic Heathery is revived in Europe, Iceland, and America.  The reconstruction relies heavily on historical fact checking and verifiable manuscripts from Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon antiquity.  Ostara is rejected as a goddess and holiday in favor of the more historically accurate Sigrblót and/or Sumarmál.


1981 CE

Gale Owens-Crocker, a professor of Anglo-Saxon culture at University of Manchester, published a work wherein she included the name Eostre in a listing of Indo-European deities representing ‘dawn’.  The linguistic links between dawn goddesses of many cultures is fairly convincing and generally accepted etymology: the Hindu ‘Usas’, the Hellenic ‘Eos’, the Roman ‘Aurora’, and Bede’s ‘Eostre’, etc.


1989 CE

Friedrick Kluge’s dictionary of German Etymology traces the word Ostern to the root words for “orient” and “dawn” instead of Bede and Grimm’s Eostre. 


Mama Stacey's Thoughts

Modern Paganism is largely romanticized.  Really, it’s a string of reconstructed faiths and re-written and Disney-fied cultural practices.  So, on occasion, inventive flair goes too far, flying in the face of facts and actual history.  We Pagans are pretty light on the discussion of blood sacrifices (Capacocha ceremonies anyone?), but we'll talk your ear off about the historical use of comfrey right?  It's our faith, we're making it up as we go, and that's okay.  Just know that Eostre/Ostara is no different.  

Previously, I’ve written on the invented mythology of the Goddess Ostara and her transformation of a bird into a hare.  Similarly, Eostre is erroneously cited as the ultimate root-word for femininity, so much so that it is the namesake of the female hormone ‘oestrogen’.  This is simply untrue.  

But, in the end, was Eostre a goddess?  Personally, I feel that she was not.  I feel that these words (Austra, Eostre, Ostara) were more the embodiment of the spring season.  The linking of the word to the dawn and the coming of new light are reflected in the season for me.  Spring is a new beginning, a fresh "day" as it were.  

Do you have to come to the same conclusion?  Nope.  But I hope you got a little something out of this research and that maybe it answered some questions for you.


Sources for those who wish to know more:

1-      Sermon, Richard.  "From Easter to Ostara: the Reinvention of a Pagan Goddess?".  Time and Mind, Volume 1, Number 3, November 2008 , pp. 331-343
2-      Cusack, Carole.  “The Goddess Eostre: Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s)”.  The Pomegranate, Volume 9, Number 1, 2007, pp. 22-40

Free Google Document = The Goddess Eostre/Cusack
3-      Grimm, Jacob.  Deutsche Mythologie”.  1800’s

Free electronic document of the 1882 English translation = Teutonic Mythology/Grimm

Friday, March 22

Tsk-Tsk Phil

Mama Stacey has been trying to give Punxsutawney Phil the benefit of the doubt regarding his prediction of an early spring... but I can't live the lie anymore.  Six more inches of snow have fallen overnight, burying our poor little apartment.  As April draws near, I have this stunted feeling.  We should be enjoying sunlight and seedlings... but alas are dealing with 2-hour school delays instead.

And it doesn't look like it's letting up any time soon.


There have been calls for Phil to be prosecuted and killed for his crimes.  I'd be happy with a simple, "Ooops."  Mother Nature is her own force and poor little Phil can't stop the snow clouds from forming.


Honestly, my only real gripe is that this foul weather has made it all but impossible to take a tour of the maternity ward with my guys.  For medical concerns, Mama Stacey is being induced on Tuesday morning and had hoped to be able to view the facilities before that... but the snow-gods have spoken and it's not meant to be.

Thursday, March 21

Ostara, In the House of Mama Stacey

Ostara is a holiday I've been looking forward to for awhile as it was a sort of 'finish line' for this pregnancy.  In all the hustle and bustle of baby prepping however, I do not want to forget about Doodle Bug.  We have been trying to incorporate him in as many baby things as possible, like assembling baby furniture and picking out baby clothes, but don't want to ignore the holidays in the process.  I've been feeling pushed to the limits physically this week and knew we wouldn't be able to play out anything so adventurous as an egg hunt... but we want a little something fun still.  Here's what we did.

Our celebration was broken up into two days.  We have an elderly neighbor who is raising her grand-niece and who doesn't always have the means or energy to do the "kid stuff".  When I learned that as a family they had never dyed eggs and had no Easter plans (they're Christian), Doodle Bug and I made some plans to share our spring celebration with them. 

Doodle Bug helped me make Irish Soda Bread and a creamy potato soup.  (sorry, no pics... it was YUMMY and gone quickly)  I got the recipe for the soup from a book, but this one from Pillsbury is pretty darn close: Home-Style Potato Soup.

We then made Bird's Nest cookies and topped them with jelly beans.  They took all of 20 minutes to put together, even with my wonderful son's help. LOL



Needed:
12oz bag of milk chocolate chips (substituting vegan semi-sweet chips makes this a VEGAN treat!)
8oz (1 cup) creamy peanut butter
12oz bag of chow mien noodles
Jelly Beans (again, use a vegan brand if that's your goal)

We poured the chocolate chips and peanut butter into a glass bowl. Two 30 second rounds in the microwave and some brisk stirring melted and blended everything right up. We dumped the entire bag of chow mien noodles in and stirred it up.

I used two tablespoons to spoon clumps of the mixture onto waxed paper and Doodle Bug placed 2-3 jelly beans on top of each. They cooled within 15 minutes. 


While I cooled about two dozen hard-boiled eggs, Doodle Bug ran over to fetch the neighbors.  once everyone was gathered around the table, I let the kids dissolve all the egg dyes into various containers.

The kids drew on the eggs with the wax crayons and dipped and dyed and mixed to their hearts content.



My neighbor and I sipped on peach juice with frozen strawberries and a splash of seltzer water (my own quickie version of a virgin sangria, ha!) and chatted while the kids did their thing.  It was a pleasant evening.


On the actual morning of the spring equinox, we let Doodle Bug sleep in (we often keep him home from school on Pagan holidays that involve an element of awesome in the morning) and then surprised him with a basket of goodies.



His favorite item was a DVD of "Wreck-It Ralph", a movie he's been begging for.  He also got a spread of seed packets, a superhero shirt, and some sweets.



Next, we made a batch of super fluffy pancakes (we tried a new recipe from Zesty Cook) with a side of scrambled eggs and veggie bacon.  We piled onto the couch as a family, snuggled under blankets, and watched Doodle Bug's movie together.



Afterwards, we had intended to take a family tour of the maternity ward at the hospital where we will be welcoming our little girl into the world, but they were full up with birthing mamas and asked us to try again another time. 

It snowed and Doodle Bug geared up to play king-of-the-snow-pile.  When the neighborhood children got home from school they redoubled their efforts to conquer the snow mounds and then had lightsaber battles.  Ah, boys.

For dinner, Mama Stacey threw some dough ingredients into the bread machine to whip up a homemade pizza dough.  We assembled two cheese pizzas with roasted red pepper sauce.  At six o'clock, as a dazzling bit of sunlight came in through the dining room windows for all to enjoy, the pizzas came out of the oven and Doodle Bug came in for the night (dripping wet!).



It wasn't a picture perfect, ritualized holiday, but it was ours.  From our home to yours... Happy Ostara!

Sunday, March 17

Falsities in Modern Paganism: Saint Patrick & Ostara's Rabbit

I've written about the importance of creating traditions for your family, and firmly believe that mythology is an integral part of that process.  However, what I do not like to see is the passing along of false information.  There are a handful of "ancient" stories and "true" histories that have become popular in Pagan communities which then spread like wildfire, either because they spark a sense of indignation in the hearts of those who would defend the legitimacy of Paganism to the death, or because they are a clever/cute way of tying our new practices to some honorable and traditional practice from days of yore.

The internet and the ease with which just about anyone can get a book e-published these days has enhanced the speed with which these falsities can spread.


Pagans As Snakes

Today, the Catholic celebration of Saint Patrick, is an excellent example of falsities spreading throughout the Pagan community.  If you're on Facebook, Pinterest, or any other form of social media today, you'll likely see images like these on your feed.


There are many sources for the origin of this very recent idea.  Many can be found in this Wild Hunt article.  Mama Stacey has found the following source to be outstanding to the point of being almost entertaining.

In 2006, Betty Rhodes used a vanity press to publish a small run of a fictional work entitled "Keeper of the Celtic Secrets".  In this work, she covers topics such as: the missing link, the origin of races and Rh-negative blood, as well as the wandering planet of Hibiru.  Within this Daniken-style work of fiction, Rhodes reveals an ancient secret... that the snakes driven out of Ireland were not actual snakes, but the Druidic priesthood, whose symbol was that of the snake.   

Rhodes makes this claim after having "spent many hours studying ancient history, astrology, the origins of religion, New and Old Age writings, and philosophy".  Personally, I feel the need to put more stock in the word of persons who have dedicated their lives and careers to the study of a subject... and not just a few hours, BUT to each their own.  This theory has been repeated on blogs, in workshops, in teaching materials, during rituals, and About.com pages, even getting a passing mention on Wikipedia for a bit.

Zazzle offers these pins for about $3.00

Since the publication of Rhodes' book, Pagans throughout the United States have adopted the wearing of a snake image on this day to honor the Druids whom Saint Patrick allegedly burned, murdered, and converted right out of Ireland. 

Mama Stacey is not one of them.


Ostara and the Myth of Egg-laying Bunnies

[img source: Thalia Took]
Have you heard this one?

There is an ancient Anglo-Saxon legend about the Goddess Ostara.  She was late arriving one spring and felt horrible about it when she came across a bird freezing to death.  She gathered the animal in her arms and transformed its outer appearance into a rabbit, granting it thick fur to keep warm with.  The animal was still a bird inside however, and continued to lay eggs.  Of course, after having been touched by the magic of Ostara, the eggs came in every color that symbolizes spring instead of the usual white.

... and that's where the legend of colored egg laying rabbits at the equinox comes from.  

Sometimes this story shifts.  At times the bird is Ostara's pet or companion.  Sometimes the bird isn't cold, but instead injured by some men and the transformation heals the animal.  In some versions, the story is far lustier and the rabbit is Ostara's lover.  When she catches the animal consorting with other women, she angrily throws him into the sky and he became the constellation Lepus.

When one looks to academia, history, and other forms of scholarly research to find the source of this tale... none exists.  Pagans suffer a significant level of cognitive dissonance regarding this.  To make sense of things, some Pagans respond that "the history of some mythologies are long lost to time" or that "oral stories don't have a written record".   However, anthropologists and historians alike agree that even oral stories can be traced through etymology or cultural transference.  Unfortunately, the tale of Ostara and the egg-laying rabbit is absent of any traceable history.

This convenient tale which so easily explains the presence of rabbits and colored eggs in the spring (and securely ties them to a Goddess named Ostara) seems to be a much more modern invention.  It doesn't seem to date back any further than the 90s (yes, the 1990s).  Mama Stacey doesn't have an exact date to cite as the only sources for this tale are web-based, however I first read the myth a few years before my son was born in 2002.  It shows up as "ancient myth" or "well known mythology" on hundreds of websites (Pagan and non-pagan alike). 

Once one peers down the rabbit-hole (ha!) the entire conglomerate of Eostre and Ostara becomes questionable.  I'll not challenge every point here today, however those interested in the scholarly side of Paganism may wish to take a look at Carole Cusack's article "The Goddess Eostre: Bede's Text and Contemporary Pagan Traditions".

Mama Stacey will have a more in depth blog post on Eostre and Ostara traditions later this week (providing I don't go into labor!  LOL).  

For now though, I'd like to leave you with a note about families who may still choose to work the idea of an egg-laying rabbit into their spring celebrations or the wearing of snakes on Saint Patrick's Day...


But... What if You LIKE Those Stories???

What if you WANT to show solidarity with Paganism by wearing a snake on St. Patrick's day?

[img source]

That is perfectly fine.

Some Pagans wear a snake on March 17th to show their protest for religious intolerance or their anti-support of missionary work.  And that's okay.  But do it for those reasons, not because of a flawed "historical" theory from an allegedly ancient journal from the 1650s (a good 1200 years after Patrick's death).

And what if you LIKE the simple story of Eostra transforming a bird into a rabbit?

[img source]
That's wonderful.  I'll admit, that it's uncomplicated and easy for children to grasp.  

Many Pagans recognize that we are practicing a living faith and the creation of new stories and mythos are a part of that.  I know parents that have created things like the "Samhain Faerie" who takes trick-or-treat candy and replaces it with toys or fruit on the night of October 31st.  I have heard tales of gnomes who visit children on Midsummer's Eve and leave them magical gifts... and I LOVE it.  The creation of tradition is vital to including children in faith.

BUT, if you're going to use the Ostara myth... please don't quote it as some ancient Anglo-Saxon legend.  It is not. 

Saturday, March 2

What NOT to Put in Your Child's Basket or "Please Don't Give Pets as Presents!"


Flea markets, pet stores, farmer's markets, Craigslist... places like these are full of people selling adorable baby bunnies and fuzzy baby chicks this time of year.  The association of these animals with spring and Easter make them high turn-over items for breeders this time of year.  Unfortunately though, a massive portion of these innocent little animals will never see their first birthday.  They are neglected, abandoned, or abused by impulsive owners who did not realize what they were getting themselves into.

So.... before you buy one, please read below to find out what you're really getting yourself and your family into. 

Keeping a Rabbit

What both symbolizes spring and can melt your heart better than a tiny fuzzy bunny with a cuteness factor of a zillion?  Not much.  But in the same way that kittens become cats and puppies become dogs, bunnies grow into rabbits.

LIFESPAN: I'd like to remind my readers that when you impulsively buy that happy morning of downy-soft, long-eared adorableness, the reality is that you now own an animal that will live as long as your average pet dog (up to 15 years!).


GROWTH: Rabbits will grow to sizes ranging from a large guinea pig to a small dog.  Some breeds grow even larger and without proper papers (something your average backyard breeder will not be able to provide their customers), the growth of mixed pedigree rabbits is hard to predict.



POTTY TIME: Pet rabbits require weekly (or more) cage cleanings.  Some love to sleep in their litter boxes while others love to eat litter (who knows why!) and so not only does the litter box need to be kept clean, you will have to choose a litter that will not hurt the rabbit should he/she nibble.  Also, while they bounce and play on the couch or living room carpet with your child, they will be indiscriminately pooping and peeing as they go.  Know that rabbit urine has a very strong smell and is high in calcium, which can leave a white etching/staining to surfaces.

CAGES & PENS: Rabbits are very active creatures and despite what you may see in the pet store, they will not thrive in a small cage.

Pet rabbits require a very large pen to thrive.  They need room to exercise and play.  Be prepared to dedicate a portion of your child's room (or another room in your home) to a rabbit pen. 



VETERINARY CARE: Your child's rabbit will also require veterinary visits.  The first major expenditure will be the act of spaying or neutering the animal.  According to Rabbit.org, within 4 months of owning a pet rabbit you will need to have this done.  S/N reduces the risk of disease and halts the rapid procreation rabbits are known for.  S/N also stops males from spraying (although, just like cats, they can regain the ability) and greatly drops the cancer rates in females.  The cost of such a surgery ranges from $75 - $300 depending on your area.  If you live in the UK, pet rabbits will also need vaccinations.

FOOD: Pet rabbits need a variety of food, not just bundles of beautiful orange carrots.  According to Everyday Health, pet rabbits primarily need hay (such as Timothy grass, alfalfa, etc.).  On top of this, they need plenty of fresh vegetables and a pellet food.

[img source: Doc Stoc]

CHEWING: Rabbits are lagomorphs, not rodents as most people believe.  Lagomorphs have teeth with open root systems, meaning that their teeth constantly grow.  To prevent their teeth from growing too long, pet rabbits MUST chew.  If you don't provide an adequate supply of chew sticks and toys, they will turn to unhealthy measures, such as chewing on portions of their pens or ducking behind your entertainment system and chewing all your HDMI cords to shreds

NEGLECT: If a rabbit is not cared for correctly, it can become finicky and may not wish to be handled.  Rabbits may protest being handled by hiding when you near their pen, or they may go so far as to scratch or bite if picked up.  These bites and scratches will hurt as much as a bite from a cat or dog.

SHELTERS:  If you think that perhaps you'll just let your child have a bunny until it becomes a problem or too much effort and then you'll just take it to a shelter... I have some not-so-nice words for you.  To begin, animals are not disposable and if you purchase an animal with the intent to simply get rid of it when it inconveniences you, you're not a person I'd like to know.  Secondly, shelters and rabbit sanctuaries are over-run with Easter bunnies each and every year.  Not all shelters have the funds to care for these unwanted creatures and many end up being put down.   

If you look at this list and decide that you're up for the ride, then so be it.  Jump on that impulse to buy a fuzz-ball.  However, if even one portion of the above list seems un-doable for you, put the bunny back and opt for a nice big chocolate rabbit or stuffed toy instead.


Keeping a Chicken

Awe!  Baby chicks are fluffy, fuzzy, and cute as all get-out.  Unfortunately they don't stay little for very long and before you know it you'll have a large, sharp clawed, firmly beaked chicken on your hands. 


REGULATIONS: First and foremost, check with your local game commission.  Depending upon where you live, you may need a special permit to own farm animals.  This isn't such a big deal in rural areas, however suburban areas and cities may not allow this.  The Humane Society points out that even if hens are allowed in certain areas, males (cockerels) are often not allowed due to their tendency to crow and their aggressive defense of females. 

BABY CHICKS: For the first few weeks, baby chicks require extra help staying warm.  They should be kept around 100*.  Unless you're in a warm climate, you will most likely need to invest in a heat lamp. 


LIFESPAN & GROWTH: Depending on the breed, chickens can live as long as a dog, up to 15 years, although 7 years is more likely.  And they grow quickly.  Within a month your baby chick will resemble a full grown chicken and require a large pen.

5 week old Austrolorp chicks. 
[img source: Fowl Visions]

CAGES & PENS: Chickens are NOT indoor animals.  They require a fenced yard to roam (unless you're in a very rural area where there is very little traffic) and a coop to sleep and nest in.   A chicken coop needs to be sized so that it provides at least 10 square feet per chicken.  Cooped chickens should be allowed free roaming time in fresh grass too.
"...keep in mind that the less outdoor space they have, the more they will destroy the area they do have. Chickens obsessively scratch up the soil, peck at what they find, and scratch some more. They also dig holes for "dust baths". And they REALLY love to eat plants and weeds. Consequently, if their run area is small, they'll make a dustbowl out of it in a week." - MyPetChicken.com

Are you prepared to build or buy a coop?  Free roaming is great for some people, but in reality poses a great deal of danger to a pet chicken.  Possums, stray dogs, foxes, coyotes, stray cats... they are out there and they're hungry.   In a single evening, they can wipe out your pets, leaving nothing but feathers and a mess.  Providing a secure chicken coop can prevent these tragedies.

[img source: Chicken Coop Designs]
Care also includes providing proper bedding materials, litter materials, and warmth  on cold nights.  For in depth information about caring for backyard chickens, check out "Backyard Chickens for Beginners" over at Yahoo! Voices. 

POTTY TIME: I'm sure you know what bird poop looks like, so I don't need to go into detail here.  What I'd like to let you know about though is that baby chicks are usually carriers of salmonella.  This bacteria lives in the intestinal tract and usually works its way into the feathers and down of the chick.  When your child pets the animal, it transfers to their skin and without proper hand washing, your child will likely become infected.  Check out the CDC's website for more information.

EGGS:  Unfortunately, not many hatcheries divide chicks destined for Easter and spring impulse buys into sexes and you may not know which you have until several months in.  If you've bought a female, she will begin the process of laying eggs around 4 or 5 months.  Eggs need collected daily otherwise they will become covered in chicken poop, buried, or may be forgotten in tall grass... and man will you be sorry when you hit one of those with the lawn mower!

FOOD & VETERINARY CARE:  Just like owning a dog or cat, there are owners out there who never take their animals to the vet and feed their pets nothing but table scraps and the occasional nibble of hard-food... but those are agreeably irresponsible pet owners.  Chickens need proper feed, not just dried corn.  They are healthiest when they have continual access to fresh outdoor grasses where insects can be found on top of a diet of chicken feed.  Chickens can also become ill, the same as any pet, and will need to be seen by a veterinarian who specializes in poultry.  If you live in a rural area, this may be easy to find... but if you live in an urban area, this type of vet may be almost impossible to find. 

If you look at this list and decide that you'd like to delight your child for 2 weeks before diving into backyard chicken farming, then be my guest and pick up a few chicks.  However, if even one portion of the above list seems un-doable for you, put the fluff-ball back and opt for a box of marshmallow Peeps or a fluffy chicken doll instead.