History of the Easter Bunny
The Easter Bunny Has Interesting Origins
Easter symbols in general have rich and varied origins.
The origins of the Easter bunny are no different. While no one is absolutely certain as to the exact origin of the Easter bunny as a symbol of Easter, one thing is for sure: children all over the world look forward to gifts of candies and chocolate on Easter morning.
Before jumping into the stories, it’s helpful to know a little about the rabbit.
Their ability to reproduce is unparalleled.
The mating season for rabbits lasts about nine months. A litter of kits (baby rabbits) usually ranges in size from 4-12 and because the gestation period is so short – 30 days – a single rabbit could possibly produce enough kits so that by the end of the breeding season, three generations of kits, grand-kits and great-grand-kits could possibly number near 800! In many cultures, this has earned them respect as symbols of fertility.
This gives new meaning to the phrase “reproducing like rabbits.”
Because of this link to fertility, quite a few cultures around the world have used a rabbit, bunny or hare as a symbol in their springtime celebrations – symbolizing new life and rebirth.
Rabbits cannot lay eggs, though. That doesn’t stop legends and stories from popping up that include the bunny laying eggs at least once a year – in various colors of pastel, no less.
Eggs are another symbol associated with fertility across a number of cultures.
The Easter Bunny Has Pagan Origins?
Historians think that the Easter bunny has pagan origins. Legend has it that the ancient goddess Ostara had a white hare as a pet.
With her powers, she granted the white hare the ability to run at rapid speed, until he angered her. She threw him up into the sky to live forever next to Orion in the constellation Lepus, or the Hare.
After Ostara banished him into the sky, she allowed him to return to the earth to lay eggs in many colors one day per year.
Another story includes the Teutonic goddess Eastre – from where we get Easter – and how she uses the rabbit and eggs as her symbols.
As early Christians set out to convert pagans to Christianity, they often set holy days to coincide with pagan celebrations to make the transition easier – Easter was no exception.
The tradition of the Easter bunny persisted through the ages. Germany started making references to the growing popularity of the Easter hare as early as the 1500s.
The Easter Bunny In North America
When German settlers arrived in the colonies in North America, they brought their tradition of the “Oschter Haws” (the Easter hare) with them.
It was like Kris Kringle at Christmas, where obedient children would receive gifts. Just as kids would leave out milk and cookies for Santa, they would often leave out carrots for the bunny to munch on as he hopped around leaving eggs for everyone.
In the 1700s, children would make “nests” with their bonnets or caps and hide them somewhere in the home, garden or barn.
Then, the Easter hare would come and leave colored eggs. Parents would put spring flowers and leaves to boil with the eggs to get different colors. They often then wrapped the eggs in gold leaf.
By the 1900s, the Easter hare had changed into the Easter bunny in the United States. By now, the bunny included eggs, chocolates, candy and other tidbits for children who deserved them - in their Easter baskets with “grass.”
Sing Peter Cottontail
US Culture Loves the Easter Bunny
US culture has happily incorporated the Easter bunny into its springtime Easter celebrations. The movie Here Comes Peter Cottontail originally aired on ABC-TV in 1971. It’s based on the 1957 novel, The Easter Bunny That Overslept. Generations of children have watched the movie and in 2006, a new Peter Cottontail computer-animated movie was released.
These traditions, legends and stories have interesting beginnings. They have helped shape cultural traditions. It’s also surprising that so many Christian traditions have pagan roots, mainly because early missionaries would allow pagans to celebrate their holidays at the same time as Christian celebrations. This was all in an effort to slowly win over the masses and convert them to Christianity.
Will the Easter Bunny bring you a basket of goodies this year?
Links and References
© 2012 Cynthia Calhoun