Easter Bunny History

by : Anne Harvester

To some, Easter is a serious religious holiday. To others, it’s a celebration of the end of winter and of renewal and beginnings. To others, it’s both – but to children, it’s often about a chocolate Easter bunny gift, colored eggs, and other sweet surprises.

It’s fairly well known that Easter is a blend of many different traditions from many different cultures. The Easter Bunny is certainly one of most prominent icon of the holiday, and actually has some very interesting origins.

Both the egg and rabbits and hares have been fertility symbols from ancient times. As prolific breeders, it’s small wonder these animals became symbolic of fertility and rebirth associated with the earth after a long, hard winter.

Early German immigrants to the U.S., who brought many of their old country traditions with them (the Christmas tree was one of them). “Pennsylvania Dutch” parents would entertain their children with tales of the Osterhase, or “Easter hare.” Like Sinterklaas at Christmas, the Osterhase visits during the night and leaves Easter gifts – including colored eggs - for well-behaved children. To this day, some children leave carrots out for the Easter Hare, much as they leave out milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.

For such a fluffy and gentle creature, the Easter Bunny stirs up a fair amount of controversy, both in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.S., some groups in a well-meaning attempt to maintain a wall of separation between religion and secular life and be more inclusive to non-Christians, have renamed him the “Spring Bunny.” On the other hand, some Christians disavow Easter altogether in recognition of the pagan roots of the holiday. In Australia, the introduction of rabbits – a non-native species – nearly resulted in an ecological disaster when they bred into a plague. Australians have been trying to replace the Easter Bunny with an indigenous species, a marsupial known as a Bilby. If you’re in the Land Down Under on Easter (where it’s actually occurs during the fall), children’s Easter baskets are just as likely to contain a chocolate bilby as it does a chocolate bunny.

Another story attributes the Easter Bunny to an “ancient” pagan legend. According to this “legend,” the goddess Eostre – for whom “Easter” is supposedly named – found a wounded bird in a snowy forest one winter. In order to help it survive the cold, she turned it into a rabbit – but the transformation was incomplete, because the rabbit continued to lay eggs. In gratitude, the rabbit decorated her eggs and presented them to Eostre every spring. Oddly, there are no references to this legend predating 1990, so it’s doubtful that this tale constitutes any sort of ancient tradition.

Nonetheless, Easter, gifts and Easter baskets continues to be a fun celebration of spring for children of all ages.ï?? ï??