There are some superstitions that, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t quite shake. The ‘white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits’ mantra for luck at the beginning of a new month is one of them. I haven’t said it out loud for years. Not since I was a child. But even so, the moment I realise that it is the first day of the month, the thought pops uncontrollably into my head. The subtle yet pervasive power of childhood rituals and memory. An amazing thing.
We were shopping over the weekend, and our little girl self-selected a new furry friend, just in time for the new month. When I say ‘selected’, I mean she reached out as she was being carried past a shelf of them, grabbed it and shoved one ear straight in her month. She made it very clear that this was not a returnable item. They’ve been inseparable ever since. It’s just as well it is not a living, breathing rabbit, because I don’t think a real bunny could have handled all the attention. Bunny gets more hugs and kisses than mummy and daddy at the moment!
So it seems that white rabbits (at the very least this white rabbit!) are a fixture in our family. Which is quite beautifully timed, as I do love the idea of beginning to share some of those childhood sayings and rituals with our little girl.
Although we are thousands of miles from home and happy to be raising a child with a very global identity, I also want to give her a sense of her Britishness. I’ve always thought of it as a very British superstition, so the monthly white rabbits custom seems as good a place to start as any. But it got me to thinking about customs and origins. Where else in the world do children think of rabbits as lucky? And are there countries where they carry different meanings than luck?
Well, my friend Wikipedia tells me that there are lots of different countries and cultures around the world which have interesting rabbit folklore and mythology:
- In Aztec mythology, a pantheon of four hundred rabbit gods, led by Two Rabbit, represented fertility, parties, and drunkenness.
- In Central Africa, the common hare (Kalulu), is cast as a trickster figure.
- In Chinese folklore, rabbits accompany Chang’e, the Chinese moon goddess. Also associated with the Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year), rabbits are also one of the twelve celestial animals in the Chinese Zodiac for the Chinese calendar. The Vietnamese lunar new year replaced the rabbit with a cat in their calendar, as rabbits did not inhabit Vietnam.
- The idea of carrying a rabbit’s foot for luck is found in many parts of the world, although it started in Europe around 600 B.C.
- In Jewish folklore, rabbits are associated with cowardice. In contemporary Israeli spoken Hebrew being called ‘rabbit’ is similar to the colloquial use of ‘chicken’.
- In Korean and Japanese mythology rabbits live on the moon making rice cakes.
- Some Native American cultures hold Nanabozho, or Great Rabbit, is an important deity related to the creation of the world.
- A Vietnamese mythological story portrays the rabbit of innocence and youthfulness. The Gods of the myth are shown to be hunting and killing rabbits to show off their power.
This morning as we snuggled up for a cuddle, I bounced Bunny over to her, whispering ‘white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits!’ in her ear. As yet it doesn’t mean anything to her, other than that it obviously felt funny tickling her ear, and made her giggle. But I can already imagine her, a few years down the line, racing in to the bedroom to chant it at me. Just like I did when I was little.