The Easter Bunny: How Did He Come To Be? by Marjorie Dorfman
Does the Easter Bunny have a checkered past? Who is he and how did he come to be associated with such a sacred holiday? Learn more about this long-eared rascal and his even longer history as a pagan symbol that predates Christianity.
Ready, set hop!
Do not rely on a rabbits foot for luck; after all, it didn't work out too well for the rabbit. ~ Chinese proverb.
Spring is a time of renewal and procreation, and many pagan cultures hold celebrations honoring life and promoting fertility, which was important in agrarian communities. The word, Easter, is Saxon in origin and relates to Eastre or Oestre (in Latin), a maiden goddess of fertility. In this context, hares and rabbits were considered sacred because of their notorious fertility.
In the second century AD, Christianity was not yet in vogue and missionaries in order to convert northern European tribes, tried to make it more attractive by transforming pagan festivals into Christian holidays. The resurrection of Christ and the pagan festival of Eastre occurred simultaneously and so they were permanently blended.
Over time, Eastre became Easter, and the symbolism changed as well. Instead of the Easter rabbit symbolizing fertility, the animal came to represent a vulnerable creature for sacrifice, such as the lamb. To Christians, these innocents are tokens of Christ and the sacrifice he made.
That cute little Easter Bunny we all know and love today dates back to the 1500s and a prominent German tradition that was brought to America via the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1700s. Originating in Alsace and southwestern Germany, Oschter Haws was a magical rabbit that would leave a nest of colored eggs for good little children to enjoy at Easter time. "Hase" means "hare," not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the "Easter Bunny" indeed is a hare, not a rabbit.
As far as eggs are concerned, they have long been a symbol of rebirth and featured in vernal celebrations. In the 600s, Pope Gregory the Great forbade the eating of eggs during Lent, which made them a special treat at Easter time. Decorating eggs and giving them as gifts is an old European custom.
The Easter Bunny is actually a good guy in disguise and not a rabbit at all. He is an anthropoid, kind of like a gift-bearing Santa Claus with long ears, who in legend is mentioned in print as early as 1620, bringing baskets filled with colored eggs, candy and toys to the homes of children on the night before Easter. Baskets are either placed in plain sight or somewhere in the house for the children to find when they wake up in the morning.
Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are ancient fertility symbols. The expression, "mad as a March hare" refers to the wild antics of hares as the males fight over the females in the early spring and then attempt to mate with them. Since the females often rebuff advances before finally succumbing, the mating ritual often looks like a crazy dance. This bold behavior makes the hares, normally timid and retiring animals, much more conspicuous to human observation in the spring.
The precise origin of the ancient custom of coloring eggs is a mystery. Many eastern Christians to this day typically dye their Easter eggs red, which signifies blood, and some use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the dead sleep of winter.
In the 18th century, no one seemed to question an egg-laying bunny as the idea took hold in the United States. According to legend, only good children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their caps and bonnets for Easter. The German and Amish legends were probably rooted in European folklore about hares eggs. Both lapwings and hares use hollows rather than burrows and the nests look very much alike. When eggs were found in the spring, there rose the belief that hares (and not birds) laid these eggs.
The first edible Easter bunnies appeared in Germany in the 1800s. They were made of pastry and sugar. Representations of Easter bunnies in edible form were also made as breakfast rolls (The Osterhasen aus Hefeteig) which are very popular in German Easter brunches and table decorations.
The Easter Bunny is a perennial icon whose long floppy ears signal warmer weather and the rebirth of formerly snow-laden ground. They say he hops around like all others of his ilk and is particularly busy on Easter morning. He lives (and hops) within the hearts of those who believe in him.
For those who dont believe he really comes around at all, eat the eggs he leaves behind anyway.
They are good for you.
Happy Easter and Spring celebrations to all and to all a good egg hunt.
by Katherine Tegen
Sally Anne Lambert
The Story of the Easter Bunny is revealed in this tale of annual springtime egg coloration and basket distribution. Beautfiully illustrated, the charm and wonder associated with this holiday legend unravel before a childs delighted eyes. Lambert's cozy paintings of Easter-time in a small English village are as lovely and inviting as a sugar egg.
We'd like to share these remarks by one reviewer: Jan Brett's books are guaranteed great collectible books. I can't think of another author with more beautiful illustrations than hers. All of my grandchildren love her books some for the stories and some for the pictures, but I've never bought a Jan Brett book in which I was disappointed.