In the United States, Easter Sunday celebrations often go hand-in-hand with the Easter Bunny. Young children leave their baskets to see what kinds of special fillers the mythical creature has left. Like Santa Claus as the figurehead of Christmas, the elusive figure has no apparent connections to the post-Lenten holy day. So why then has the Easter Bunny become so prevalently symbolic in our modern-day celebrations?
How is a bunny related to Easter?
Stories say that the Easter Bunny’s origins stem from early pagan celebrations, namely, the vernal equinox. Pagans would celebrate the renewal of life, as well as the goddess of dawn and fertility, each spring. They would often represent this goddess, Eostre, by an egg or the hare. As Christianity spread its roots throughout Europe, celebrations around the vernal equinox may have merged with the observance of Christ’s resurrection. This is because they both occur around the same time each year. Over time, missionaries were said to have blended pagan traditions with Christian holidays to make transitions smoother. It’s a possibility that the resurrection of Christ and the celebrations of Eostre were united.
The earliest evidence of a more recognizable Easter Bunny dates back to the seventeenth century as it is first mentioned in German writings. This bunny, called “Oschter Haws” or in English, Easter hare, would lay a nest of colorful eggs for good children.
Is the Easter bunny real?
There is no single bunny that once was the iconic hare; history says the legendary egg-laying rabbit came to America by German immigrants in the 1700s. Children would make nests for the Oschter Haws to leave behind its eggs. As immigration increased, the tradition spread into the U.S., where the hare’s gifts eventually became chocolates and candies, and the nests became baskets. Chocolate bunnies also originated in Germany, where they began making pastries for the fabled hare in the 1800s.
Why not the Easter Chicken?
The hare and the egg became one with the spring holiday because of roots in pagan faith representing rebirth and fertility. It seems more possible that these two images merged into the egg-laying rabbit of German folklore instead of a far more practical, and actually egg-laying, chicken.
Regardless of who’s laying the eggs, eggs are the main Easter image that has come to represent Jesus’s resurrection. A possible reason for actually decorating eggs is to prepping them for consumption on Easter morning once Lenten fasting is over.
Whether it was pagan or Christian associations with the rabbit that ultimately influenced the Germans, the world may never know. But one thing is sure: The Easter Bunny will continue to bring joy and excitement to children across the country every Easter Sunday.