Easter is upon us and millions of chocolate Easter eggs will be handed to children and adults alike over the next few days (or already have, as in our house). If we played a word association game and I said Easter, what would your answer be? Eggs, Easter bunny, chocolates, daffodils, family time, Jesus rose from the dead, would probably be the most common answers I would get.
So how is it that this Christian festival is associated with a rabbit bringing eggs?
The history of this starts way back before Christianity had a foothold in much the world. Let’s enter the world of pre-Christian Germany and their pagan traditions. As we know, Christians all over the world will be celebrating Easter in honor and remembrance of the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead, in essence a rebirth and renewal of life. In pagan Germany people worshipped the goddess Eostra on the Vernal Equinox, i.e. the beginning of Spring. She is the goddess of renewal and fertility. Her symbols (let’s face it all good gods have symbols!) are the hare, due to the creature’s high rate of reproduction, eggs and the full moon, which are also ancient symbols of renewal and fertility.
As Christianity spread, a lot of pagan festivals were incorporated into this new religion (Christmas is another one of those) to make this new believe more appealing to the masses and to avoid backlashes. And so it was that the day of Eostra became Ostern in German and eventually Easter in the English language. Now, where does the egg laying Easter bunny come into this?
Well, the first tale about a bunny laying eggs and hiding them in a garden was first published in 1680 in Germany and eventually became legend. It’s a small leap to imagine that the tale originated from the fact that the hare was once a symbol of Eostra and the renewal of life, the beginning of Spring and therefore should be associated with the feast of Easter. German immigrants took the story with them to the US in the 1700s. People then started to make little nests for the bunny to lay its eggs in and, as with all the other holidays we know today, it evolved into the multi-million [insert you currency of choice here] business it is today.
So, whilst you munch on your chocolate egg of choice, you can now sit back, knowing that there is, in some strange way, a connection between the bunny, the eggs, Easter, and the celebration of the renewal of life celebrated around the world.