The Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs have been a long time symbol of Easter, but what are the origins of the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs? What does a bunny and eggs have anything to do with Easter?
As a child, I never really remember questioning why we go looking for hidden eggs on Easter, or why a big Easter Bunny comes and leaves me a present. In my mind, I didn't care, because the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg Hunts were awesome regardless of what these 2 things had anything to do with Jesus rising from the dead. However, as I grew older and started questioning things more, I remember one day it just hit me - "wait a second...who thought of celebrating Easter with a bunny and eggs? Bunnies don't even lay eggs, do they? Even so, where's the connection to Easter?"
I now have the answers to those questions and I am going to share them with you in this article.
Easter actually started out as a Pagan holiday, not a Christian holiday. Even before the days of Christian folklore, Easter, or as it was known then - Eastre, was a pagan holiday celebrated by the Anglo-Saxons that was intended to be a festival celebration to welcome the spring season. During this celebration, the pagans would worship their Goddess of Offspring and Springtime, Eastre, through her earthly form - the rabbit.
The rabbit was recognized by the Anglo-Saxons that worshipped it as the symbol of fertility. Rabbits have always been known as very fertile animals, and thus in the pagans eyes, the rabbit was a Godsend to represent fertility in its most natural form.
This pagan festival known as Eastre went on for a long time before rising Christian missionaries trying to convert the pagans to their religion had some issues with the non-Christian festivals occurring around the same time as the Christians celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Luckily for the Anglo-Saxon pagans, these converters weren't going to go the violent route. Instead of outright abolishing the pagan celebrations altogether, they slowly added in different aspects of Christianity and the resurrection of Christ into them.
In an effort to finally completely remove the pagan aspect of this holiday, Eastre was changed to Easter to remove any connotation regarding the pagan Goddess of Offspring. The rabbits were no longer being worshipped, but were kept in most traditions. Since the rabbit can epitomize the idea of fertility, it can easily be incorporated into the story of Christ's resurrection as a reference to Jesus being re-born. This is where the Easter Egg also starts to play a big factor in metaphoric references to the resurrection of Christ.
The Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs have been symbols for Easter and Eastre for centuries before it ever became commercialized in America. The Easter Bunny folklore arrived in America in the 1700s via the German settlers. They brought their long time tradition of Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs to a Dutch Pennsylvania settlement and it just got big from there.
In the Dutch culture the children would celebrate Easter by waiting for the arrival of the Easter Bunny, or Oschter Haws. The children thought that if they were good boys and girls that the Easter Bunny would come pay them a visit on Easter and leave them a present. One of the most peculiar parts of this tradition was that not only did the Easter Bunny come to leave a present, but the children would make nests in their barn or out in the yard out of straw, so that the Easter Bunny could lay eggs. A rabbit that lays eggs? That's almost as odd as the idea of a creature that is 1/3 beaver, 1/3 duck, and 1/3 mole that lays eggs. The only difference is that a platypus is real.
The egg has actually been a long-time symbol in most cultures as a symbol of re-birth. Naturally, combining the two concepts of rabbits and eggs, or fertility and re-birth, it suits the Christian story of Easter quite well. So, as peculiar as it sounded at face value, the idea of the Easter Bunny laying eggs is rather clever.
The eggs were often painted in bright colors or wrapped in gold leaves, by the parents of course, to signify the bright colors of the new spring season. As this tradition spread in popularity around America, it began to evolve. Children were now starting to find elaborately woven Easter baskets stuffed full of chocolates, candies, pastries, and other tasty treats. The concept of chocolate bunnies began to emerge as well, moving on from being made of sugary pastries to delectably fine German chocolates.
The Easter Bunny and Easter Egg tradition was so popular that it continued to evolve throughout the 19th and 20th centuries in America. As parents got more creative with their ideas, word began to spread of them and new traditions were born. The Easter Egg hunts were one of these fun new ideas that both the children and parents thoroughly enjoyed.
Children would spend time coloring and decorating their eggs and then the parents would hide them all and have the kids go and find them and put them in their Easter baskets. This is one of the most popular Easter traditions that still flourish today. No kid can resist an Easter Egg Hunt, especially nowadays when we can increase the value of each egg by stuffing it with individual treats and tiny gifts.
Now that I understand where the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg concept comes from I feel a lot better. For a while there, I was extremely confused about this whole tradition. Thank God for the internet I guess. Easter Bunnies and Easter Eggs make a lot more sense now, and I think that the whole concept is actually pretty creative. It's also pretty amazing that even though the Christians took over the original pagan holiday known as Eastre, they still kept the symbol of the bunny long enough for it to explode in popularity among the Germans and Americans. If Easter has evolved this much already, who's to say Easter won't have another popular tradition associated with it 1000 years from now?