Tales of the Easter Bunny have been passed on for generations, but chances are, you probably have no idea where they originated.
First off, he’s German. The “Oschter haws,” or Easter hare, hopped across the pond to the U.S. when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 18th Century.
According to custom, children would hide nests made out of upside-down hats around their homes, and the magical bunny would reward good little kinder — that’s German for children — by filling them with colorful eggs.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that the first edible bunny figures — sugar-covered pastries — were created in Germany.
Then, after the practice spread across the U.S. around the early 19th century, those hats were subbed out for baskets and the holiday began to take the secular shape of what we know it to be today.
So why the bunny? Because of their ties to spring, birth and the Virgin Mary. There were spring festivals celebrated by pagan cultures in Western Europe to promote fertility and to honor Eostre, the goddess of fertility, who was usually shown holding eggs and rabbits.
As a show of good faith by religion-spreading missionaries, the egg and hare aspects of the festival were woven into the context of the Christian holiday in order to recruit pagans to Christianity.
Catholic.org states that “rabbits are prolific breeders…and have long been associated with spring and new life.”
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The site says that the ancient Greeks believed rabbits could reproduce as virgins — a belief that eventually associated the little hoppers with Mary, the mother of Jesus. They were depicted in medieval art and literature alongside her, acting as a standing reminder of purity.
And why do we dye eggs for Easter? Eggs are a similar symbol of fertility and new life, especially during spring when baby animals are most often born.
So it makes sense (sort of) that a bunny would be distributing these little signs of hope. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem as if the early settlers believed that rabbits actually laid the eggs themselves.
These customs go back hundreds of years — but it wasn’t until more recently that parents began the tradition of taking pictures of their terrified, wailing children with man-sized hares.