As Easter approached, I began wondering just where the Easter Bunny came from in the first place … and how did eggs come to be associated with a rabbit? Since I was set for a blog post on Easter Sunday, I decided to look into the matter.
Wikipedia says the Easter Bunny originated with German Lutherans, who called it the Easter Hare (Osterhase), and decided whether children were good or bad at the start of Eastertide (AKA the Easter Season). According to History.com, the Easter Bunny came to America early in the 18th century with German immigrants, whose children made nests so the rabbit could lay its eggs in them. Later, as other gifts, candy, and even chocolate eggs were included in the mix, decorated baskets came to replace the nests. And in the same way you might sometimes leave out milk and cookies for Santa Claus, these kids also left out carrots for the Easter Bunny—just in case he got tired from hopping around so much.
But back to the question—where did the Easter Bunny come from before that? Actually, to answer this question, you have to first examine how the term “Easter” came to refer to the Christian celebration of the day Jesus rose from the dead.
Way back in the 8th century, the Venerable Bede (a monk at a monastery in England) wrote about how the month of April was named after a German goddess called Ēostre. Even though the German people converted to Christianity, they kept the name to designate the Paschal season. Jacob Grimm—you may know of him as the older of the Brothers Grimm—supported Bede’s claim in the face of skeptics, even breaking down the German vocabulary to point out that both the Old High German adverb ôstar and the Old Norse term austr “expresses movement towards the rising sun”. Based on the meaning of these words, Grimm concludes the German month of April (ôstarmânoth) was named after a “divinity of the radiant dawn”.
… So that’s where “Easter” comes from, but where and when did the bunny hop in? No evidence can conclusively link a rabbit or hare to the goddess Ēostre, but hares appear repeatedly in medieval church art. In the late 1800s, Charles J. Billson studied the hare in relation to folk customs and mythology, finding many Northern European practices concerning the hare associated with Easter, even stating “there are good grounds for believing that the sacredness of this animal reaches back into an age still more remote”.
As far as the eggs go, some churches exclude the eating of eggs as part of their fasting during Lent, and some theorize that people may have boiled eggs to keep them from spoiling, waiting for the end of the fast at Easter in order to eat them. Like rabbits, eggs are a traditional symbol of fertility; they also symbolize rebirth and some Christians associate Easter eggs with Jesus’ empty tomb. I myself have heard of how eggs illustrate the trinity through their three parts making up one whole, and for many, the egg represents new life.
So there you have it—a goddess, a hare, and an egg combining their symbolism to bring you a Happy Easter.
May your Easter Season be filled with radiant dawns bringing egg-laying bunnies to leave you their rejuvenating gift of newness! 🙂