Have you ever wondered how a white, long-eared, cotton-tailed rabbit who hops from house to house delivering baskets of colored eggs came to symbolize Easter? Or for that matter why Easter is even called “Easter” in the first place? If so, then you’re not alone – read on to find out.
The arrival of spring is usually synonymous with the celebration of Easter. Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth, and Easter is thought to originate from the celebration of the festival of Eostre – who is the pagan goddess of spring and fertility and whose symbols were hares (rabbits) and eggs.
Rabbits, well-known for their enthusiastic breeding, have traditionally symbolized fertility. And eggs, representative of new life and rebirth, have also characterized fertility since ancient times.
Over the millennia, these two symbolic representations merged to become a beloved part of present-day Easter traditions.
So how does the Easter Bunny fit into all of this? Many historians believe the Easter Bunny was first introduced to North America by German immigrants in the 1700s, who reportedly brought with them their tradition of an egg-laying rabbit called the “Osterhase” or “Easter Hare”.
Similar to Santa Claus with his “naughty or nice” list, legend has it that the Easter Hare’s original role was to judge whether or not children displayed good or bad behaviour at “Eastertide” (Easter time) and reward them accordingly. As part of the legend, the Easter Hare would lay colourful eggs as gifts to children who were good, and so the children would build nests in which the rabbit could lay its eggs.
Eventually the custom spread, and over time the tradition grew — with nests evolving into baskets and the delivery of coloured eggs expanding to include chocolate, candy, and other delicious treats.
While the Easter Bunny may be the most famous, it’s not always a rabbit that brings Easter eggs and chocolate. In Australia, it’s the Easter Bilby, an endangered rabbit-like marsupial native to that country. While in Switzerland it’s the Easter Cuckoo, and in some parts of Germany it’s the Easter Fox or Easter Rooster. Looks like the Easter Bunny has some competition!