On Easter Sunday, while indulging in chocolate bunnies or colorful peeps and painted eggs, you might want to stop and ask, “Why does Easter have a bunny?”
The holiday was originally a pagan celebration that worshiped the goddess Easter. She was the goddess of fertility and springtime, and her earthly symbol was the rabbit. The Easter Bunny is German in origin. He shows up in 16th century literature as a deliverer of eggs. The significance of eggs came from their symbolizing new life as well as fertility and continuing life. Colored eggs were left only for well-behaved good children!
The pagan holiday, which occurred around the same time as the Christian memorial of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, was combined with the Christian celebration and given the name Easter. Christians explain that the eggs represent Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Orthodox churches followed a custom of abstaining from eggs during the fast of Lent. The only way to keep them from being wasted was to boil or roast them, and begin eating them to break the fast.
The origins of the non-biblical Easter figure, the bunny, are unclear, but may have roots in German immigrant communities of the 18th century. According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700’s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called Osterhase or Oschter Haws. The children believed that if they were good, the Oschter Haws would lay a nest of colored eggs.
The tradition held that the children would build their nest in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys would use their caps and girls their bonnets to make the nests.
The term Easter bunny wasn’t used until 1900. The use of elaborate Easter baskets would come later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread throughout the country.
The first edible Easter bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800’s. These were made of pastry and sugar. Chocolate Easter bunnies became popular in the 1890’s, and also came from Germany. The jellybean was introduced in the 1930’s, and the Peeps were thrown into the mix during the 1950’s.
Today Americans spend $1.9 billion on Easter candy. That’s the second biggest candy holiday after Halloween. Chocolate makes up 70% of the candy purchased. A fun fact is that 76% of Americans think the ears of the chocolate bunny should be eaten first!
So while you’re biting those bunny ears off, think about why Easter has a bunny!