Where Did the Easter Bunny Come From?
The Easter Bunny may be second only to Santa Claus in terms of famous holiday icons. You may wonder, however, how the well-known rabbit became associated with Easter in the first place. The fact is, this association began only relatively recently.
Eostre and the Rabbit
The Easter holiday itself actually finds its roots in a collection of the spring festivals celebrated by many different ancient pagan cultures. One such festival honored the Germanic fertility goddess Eostre. The rabbit, also a common symbol of fertility, was often associated with Eostre. According to legend, however, the rabbit was banished from heaven when he angered Eostre. Taking pity on him, she gave the rabbit the ability to lay eggs once each year as a continuing symbol of fertility.
The Expansion of Christianity
As Christianity became more widespread around the world, many cultures adapted their own traditions to their new understanding of Christian teaching. The spring fertility festival for Eostre, then, gradually became Easter, a spring holiday to celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the grave. The association of the holiday with the Easter Bunny, who gives children eggs and other gifts to celebrate Easter, is a distant reference to Eostre's old sidekick.
The Easter Bunny Today
The modern version of the Easter Bunny seems to have developed around the 16th century in Germany, where sweet pastries shaped like a rabbit became a common Easter treat. Children were told that if they were good, the rabbit Oschter Haws would leave them gifts of bright colored eggs. Therefore, the children would build nests in or around their home in which Oschter Haws could leave the eggs.
Gradually, this tradition of the nests developed into the modern use of elaborately decorated Easter baskets. Immigrants to the United States from this region, many of whom became the Pennsylvania Dutch, brought their Easter Bunny traditions to America with them, leading to the development of the Easter Bunny children around the world know and love today.