When you think about it, the Easter Bunny is an odd tradition to be associated with a Christian holiday. Just where did the idea of the Easter Bunny come from? The history of this tradition comes from a few different places, but at the center of each tradition is a recognition of spring as a time of fertility and rebirth.
The Goddess and the Rabbit
Easter itself is an adapted holiday that was based on the themes and timing of two pre-Christian Pagan traditions. The Anglo-Saxon goddess Ostara was the goddess of fertility. Each spring Pagans would place seeds and colored eggs on their altars in her honor. These symbols represented the new life and beginnings associated with the vernal equinox.
According to Anglo-Saxon legend, the Goddess Ostara turned her pet bird into a rabbit for the vernal equinox. The rabbit would lay colorful eggs to entertain the children. The word "Eostre" was modified to "Easter."
In Northern Europe, the goddess Eostre ruled over fertility. Her consort was a rabbit, whom she cast into the heavens to create the constellation of Lepus the Hare. Once a year, Eostre allowed Lepus to come back to earth and have the ability to lay eggs.
In both stories, rabbits are central figures. Rabbits are associated with springtime since they are so fertile. During this time of year, the earth is waking up, and everything in nature is growing and having offspring. Rabbits exemplify this spirit of fertility and birth. They can conceive a second litter while still pregnant with the first.
Easter Bunnies in Modern Times
The symbols of the eggs and the rabbit were adapted into early Christian traditions in order to persuade Pagans to convert. The tradition was carried on by several cultures over the centuries, most notably the Germans in the 1500s. In the German culture, children were visited by Oschter Haws (Easter Hare), who would leave colored eggs in "nests" that the children hid around their homes.
This tradition made its way over to the United States with the Dutch settlers. Eventually, instead of creating nests each Easter, the settlers began creating baskets, a tradition that is carried on to this day.
In the 19th century, German chocolate makers began creating rabbit-shaped treats for Easter celebrations. The tradition spread to many different countries around the world, including the United States. Today, the ancient Pagan traditions can be seen each year as the Easter Bunny leaves eggs and treats for children to collect on Easter Sunday.
As children look forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny, it's interesting to learn a little Easter bunny history about how this legendary rabbit first got its start and how it has evolved into today's beloved character.
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