The Easter bunny is a symbol of Easter, which is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the vernal equinox. The holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Easter has been a prominent celebration in Christianity for more than 1,000 years.
Have you ever wondered how a rabbit became the symbol of Easter? If so, you are not alone. So how did the Easter bunny get its job delivering colorful Easter eggs? After all rabbits are mammals and don’t even lay eggs. Shouldn’t the symbol for Easter be an animal that actually lays eggs, like a lizard or chicken?
In Germany, rabbits have been associated with spring and fertility since the pre-Christian era. In fact, the rabbit was the symbol of Eostra—the pagan Germanic goddess of spring and fertility. This isn’t surprising when you consider that rabbits are prolific breeders. Rabbits are able to breed at a young age and can produce several litters in a year. It is believed that this pagan symbol of spring and fertility most likely merged with Christian traditions in 17th century Germany. In other words, the Christian holiday of Easter, which celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, became superimposed on pagan traditions that celebrated rebirth and fertility.
The idea of an Easter bunny that delivered eggs likely first emerged in Germany during medieval times.
As Christianity spread throughout Europe so did the tradition of an egg-laying bunny, known as Oschter Haws (in Pennsylvania Dutch) or Osterhase (in German). The custom made its way to America with immigrant German settlers in the 1700s and 1800s, who brought their traditions with them. People began to make nests for the Easter bunny to lay his eggs in, usually out of straw or wood shavings in baskets or hats or bonnets left out overnight by children on Easter Eve.
There is no mention of rabbits in the Bible, so how did these animals get associated with Easter? And for that matter, how did Easter eggs become a thing?
The egg has been a symbol of fertility and rebirth since the ancient cultures of Persia, Egypt and Rome. Christians used this symbol as well to represent the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first modern-day Easter eggs were made by German Protestants in the 1600s. They would decorate their eggs to symbolize the end of Lent, a time when they would abstain from eating eggs during the 40 days leading up to Easter.
So why does the Easter bunny bring eggs? According to Discovery News, since ancient times, eggs and rabbits have been a symbol of fertility, while spring has been a symbol of rebirth. So even though rabbits don’t lay eggs, the association of these symbols was almost natural. Later, the resurrection of Jesus would also be tied into the long standing concept of rebirth. Writings from the 17th century in Germany describe the “Oschter Haws” (Easter hare) for the first time. According to folklore, the Easter hare would lay colorful eggs in the nests (baskets) of well behaved children.
I think we’ve all seen the Easter bunny. But how did that come to be? The Easter bunny is a symbol of fertility and new life, much like the egg.
Bunnies are known for their insatiable sexual appetite and were originally considered a symbol of fertility. In fact, bunnies were so closely associated with sex that they were even used as fertility charms and amulets.
The Easter bunny is said to lay eggs and hide them in a nest for children to find on Easter morning. This tradition might have originated when worshippers of Ostara (the Germanic goddess of spring) associated bunnies with the goddess.
So there you have it. The Easter bunny and Easter eggs originated as pagan symbols of spring and rebirth. Over the centuries, these ancient symbols became associated with the Christian holiday of Easter such that the two traditions have merged together to become what some celebrate today. Although my children may not know the history behind the Easter bunny, this past weekend they thoroughly enjoyed participating in the tradition of the Easter egg hunt and look forward to it next year.