When you stop to think about it, the tradition of an Easter bunny is so bizarre. I mean, seriously, a rabbit that lays colorful eggs for children on a day that Christians celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Where in the world did this tradition come from?
Oddly enough, Easter was originally a pagan festival. It was held to honor the goddess of spring, and sacrifices were made to her every year. It was not until the 8th century that Christians took the name Easter as their own for the day they celebrated the resurrection of Christ. Christianity eventually adopted pagan customs. In 325 AD the First Council of Nicaea officially made Easter the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox.
The Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring was named Eostre, and according to mythology, she had a hare as her companion. This goddess is also called Oestre or Eastre (see how similar that is to Easter), and in Germany, she was called Ostara. Eventually, Christians changed this goddess’ hare into the Easter bunny. The Easter bunny lays eggs because eggs are also symbols of new life and fertility. Christians view eggs as representations of Christ’s resurrection from the tomb (emerging like a baby chick).
According to the legend, the goddess Eostre came upon a bird that was dying in the cold. To save the bird, she made it a rabbit instead because the fur would prevent it from freezing to death. Even though the creature had changed on the outside, it still laid eggs as though it were still a bird. In some variations of the story, as a gift to Eostre, the rabbit painted its eggs out of loyalty and love.
Like most traditions, it’s hard to be certain when the tradition of the Easter bunny began. However, there are some theories out there. Beginning in ancient times, rabbits have been viewed as a symbol of fertility and new life because of how quickly they breed. We even have the idiom “breed like rabbits.” Pop culture is filled with references of breeding like rabbits. Easter is always in the Spring, a time of new life, hence the bunny as a symbol of Spring and Easter. But the tradition is more than that.
Supposedly the Easter bunny came to the United States through German immigrants as early as the 18th century. These immigrants settled in Pennsylvania, and brought with them their tradition of a hare that laid eggs called “Osterhase” and “Oschter Haws.” German children would create little nests for this hare to lay its colored eggs. Over time the Osterhase tradition moved all across the United States. As the tradition evolved, the rabbit’s also brought gifts of chocolate, candy, and gifts. Rather than nests, children used decorated baskets. And just like leaving cookies out for Santa Claus when he delivers gifts, children would leave out carrots for the Easter bunny.
So there you have it! Similar to various Christian traditions, Easter grew out of a pagan festival. And yet, today it is one of the most important Christian holidays. Originally celebrated to honor the goddess of Spring, now we spend the day celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Easter has many traditions, but one of the strangest is the Easter bunny.
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