How A Bunny Made It's Way Into Easter
Did we miss a bible study? Were rabbits present at the resurrection of Jesus? There’s something strange about the bunny’s presence at Easter. Hands down, they have absolutely nothing at all to do with the holiday and yet, there they are…laying eggs, no less.
It’s widely accepted that the presence of bunnies during Easter stems from pagan traditions, when long-eared, pom-pom tailed creatures were worshiped as fertility symbols. If you’ve ever been around rabbits, you won’t have a hard time figuring out why they were linked to fertility. Frankly, they get busy. Not only are their litters large but there are a lot of them – litters, that is. Unlike most animals, female rabbits are able to conceive a second litter while still pregnant with the first, hence the expression (you know the one).
Most myths surrounding rabbits are bit shaky, including the one most often credited to the creation of our Easter bunny. They story goes that Ostara, a Norse goddess also referred to as Oestra or even Eastre, represented springtime, fertility, and rebirth. (Notice how similar her name is to that of the holiday itself?) Well, according to lore, this Anglo-Saxon goddess had a pet bird which she transformed a rabbit to amuse the town’s children. After the transformation, the creature retained some of its original qualities, like being able to lay brightly colored eggs, which the children collected.
If you’re thinking that tale sounds almost too similar to modern day tradition, many historians would have to agree with you. It’s been suggested that this myth was possibly invented by Venerable Bede, the famous English monk. In 750 CE, he wrote a book that mentioned Ostara, but no record of her can be found prior to its publication.
But with or without the verification of Ostara’s myth, historians believe that at some point, the rabbit and eggs were linked together, as both have been considered fertility symbols for centuries, and incorporated into a pagan festivals that celebrated spring. Then, with the acceptance of Christianity and some syncretistic maneuvering, the bunny became part of the new festivities.
During the 1700s, the belief of these festive rodents made their way to America by German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Back in Europe, the children had made nests into which the rabbit would lay colored eggs. (Children also left carrots out in case the rabbit got hungry from hopping. Why did this end?) From there, the nests grew to include gifts and candies, ultimately morphing into the baskets that we have today.
So this year, when you’re gathered around a ham-laden table, feel free to impress your company with the story of why they spent their morning gathering eggs laid by a mythical rabbit.