What Does A Bunny Have To Do With Easter?
Easter Sunday is one of the most hallowed days in Christian tradition -- and to celebrate, millions of children around the world will await the arrival of a mythical bunny to deliver them candy-filled eggs.
Wait. What's that now?
Despite the centuries-old association between this holiday and the big-eared animal that's come to serve as its chief symbol, few ever pause to ponder what connection a rabbit might have with the religious holiday. Perhaps its a human tendency to not ask too many questions about the one providing free chocolate, but let's take a closer look anyway.
In short, bunnies really have nothing to do with the Biblical account of Easter, directly at least.
While Christians have long held Easter Sunday sacred as the day of resurrection, people in 13th-century Germany also had a celebration around the same time of the year in honor of the pagan goddess of Spring and fertility -- Eostra. Naturally, when it came to find a symbol for this mythical figure, rabbits hopped to mind. After all, if rabbits are good at one thing, it's making more rabbits.
As Germany gradually became Christianized in the 15th-century, former pagans didn't do away with their former holiday entirely, but instead incorporated its symbols, like the bunny rabbit, into their new faith -- though it wasn't too great a leap considering the similarities between a deity rising from the dead and a pagan symbol representing the renewal of life after many long, cold winter months.
But as easy as that might be to understand, there's another odd element to the Easter bunny tradition. Rabbits don't lay eggs.
Tracing the origins of the egg element to solely the bunny or Christian roots of Easter poses a bit more of a challenge, considering that ovum may have a place in both.
According to the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture, tradition has a it that Eostra once appeared to a little girl who had happened upon an injured bird and prayed for her the goddess to help. Magically, she turned the bird into her emblematic rabbit -- promising the child that, for her good deed, it would return once a year to bring rainbow colored eggs.
Eggs may also have been an early symbol in Christianity as well, given eggs' easy metaphor for rebirth. According to History.com, Easter eggs are said to "represent Jesus' emergence from the tomb," though their appearance around this time of year may also be associated with the end of Lent, during which eating eggs was forbidden.
By the late 17th-century, the pagan and Christian origins of both rabbits and eggs around Easter had meshed into a single tradition with the appearance of stories of Easter bunnies hiding colorful eggs in gardens for children to delightfully discover. Given kids' love of all things candy, it wasn't long before chocolate found its way into the modern form of the long-evolved holiday.
18th-century German settlers in Pennsylvania brought the Easter bunny to the New World, though it wasn't until after the Civil War that the tradition of bunnies on Easter spread throughout the United States -- though it was still usually just a rabbit that no one ever saw that was dropping off the treats. Fanciful depictions of a more anthropomorphized Easter bunny arose much later.
In the 1950s, the Easter bunny truly became a cultural fixture, like Santa Clause, with the release of the Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins song "Peter Cottontail" which topped the pop charts and later served as the inspiration for children's books, cartoons, and comics.
Today, the Easter bunny is more popular than ever, even though its origins are largely overlooked. But then again, who has time to ask such questions when there's free chocolate just lying around for the taking?