Each spring, people throughout the world celebrate Easter. Many spend it painting or hunting for eggs and eating chocolate bunnies. Often, children will even flock to their local malls to meet and take pictures with the biggest bunny of all, the Easter Bunny. But how did a giant bunny even become one of the most recognizable symbols of Easter? Here are the top five reasons why we celebrate Easter with a bunny!
For centuries, rabbits and hares have represented not only Easter but spring in general. Rabbits have long been known for being a symbol of fertility and new life. This is because rabbits are very fertile animals and can give birth multiple times in a year. The gestation period for rabbits is between 28 and 30 days and a doe can become pregnant again even just hours after giving birth.
In Anglo-Saxon pagan tradition, there was a goddess called Eostre known as the goddess of spring. Her main symbols were the egg and the rabbit. There was a legend that the goddess found an injured bird during winter and in order to save its life, she transformed it into a hare. Although it was no longer a bird, the hare was able to lay eggs.
Actually, the first Easter Bunnies probably were not rabbits at all, but instead hares. It is unclear why this change from hare to rabbit occurred, but one noticeable difference between hares and rabbits is that hares are generally larger. They tend to have longer legs and ears just like the modern day Easter Bunny.
Since the Goddess Eostre was so important at springtime, there was a month-long festival dedicated to her. The festival started on the vernal equinox in March and lasted throughout the majority of April. When Christianity spread to Anglo-Saxons, many of the traditions during the festival of Eostre were adapted into the ceremonies in honor of the Resurrection of Christ because they both occurred in the same month and encouraged many pagans to convert. As a result, the English name of the Easter holiday is derived from Eostre.
Now, rabbits (or hares) come into this story because they're the symbol of Eostre, but also because the rabbit has a strong connection to the moon in pagan tradition. The hare was believed to be a symbol of the moon, and the cycles of the moon are actually what determine what day we celebrate Easter each year. Easter is celebrated on the next Sunday after the Paschal moon which is the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox.
In other Easter folklore, the fabled white bunny we've come to know originated in Germany in the 1500s, where it was originally a white hare. It was believed that if a young child was especially good, the Easter Bunny would leave a nest full of colorful eggs. At the beginning, the children would use their caps or bonnets as nests for the eggs, but these were later replaced by the now familiar baskets.
In the eighteenth century, German immigrants to Pennsylvania brought the Easter Bunny tradition to the United States where it became quite popular. Germany is also where the first edible Easter Bunnies originated in the 1800s. They were first made of pastry and sugar.
The way you celebrate Easter each year may be somewhat different depending on where you live. Many places celebrate with the Easter Bunny but a few others have different animals delivering their Easter treats. For example, in Switzerland, cuckoos deliver colorful eggs to children, and in Westphalia, Germany, they believe in the Easter fox.
However, the most popular way to celebrate still seems to be with stuffed animal bunnies, rabbit-shaped chocolate and marshmallow candies and, of course, large anthropomorphic rabbits. One has even made it to the White House, presiding over the annual Easter Egg Roll with the Presidential family.