Personally, I’ve always found the Easter bunny to be one of the most frightening costumed symbols of a holiday. It would be one thing if every Easter bunny seen in malls and at egg hunts across the country was fluffy and adorable, but that’s almost never the case. In most cases, the typical Easter bunny costume looks like something an axe murderer sewed in his basement. Regardless, since it is Throwback Thursday and the Easter season, let’s take a look at the history behind the Easter bunny.
These days, if you heard someone talking about Easter hare, you’d assume they were discussing how they were going to wear their hair on Easter. However, before he was called the Easter Bunny (which, admittedly, sounds much cuter), German Lutherans referred to him as the Easter Hare. Much like Santa does, the Easter Hare determined whether kids had been good or bad during the past year.
A tradition that still lives on today is colored eggs which are hid and distributed to kids during the Easter season. These festivities originally began with the Easter Bunny, who was said to carry an abundance of colorful eggs, toys and candies in a basket to give to children. Again, much like Santa, the Easter Bunny would start his journey the night before Easter Sunday. This legend can be traced all the way back to the 1600s when Georg Franck von Franckenau described the Easter Hare joyfully distributing goodies to kids in his book, “About Easter Eggs.”
It’s understandable for people to associate some sort of mascot to a holiday, but why was a bunny, of all animals, chosen for Easter? Roots to this decision can be traced back to early Christian symbols. Hares are a popular image in medieval church art. Many philosophers believed that the animal was a hermaphrodite and could reproduce without loss of virginity. This belief led to parallels to the Virgin Mary.
Bunnies, as well as eggs, are also fertility symbols. With Easter occurring in the spring, the season of life, having two symbols that represent the continuation of life, seemed fitting. It also didn’t hurt that bunnies are known to give birth often to large litters. In fact, female hares can become pregnant again while they’re still pregnant with another litter. Because you can’t really have too much life during Easter, can you?
The United States didn’t start recognizing a bunny distributing eggs as the symbol of Easter until the 1700s. This tradition came from Protestant German immigrants who told their children about Osterhase, with ‘hase’ meaning ‘hare’. As mentioned earlier, only the good kids would receive treats from the Easter Bunny. The night before Easter, the children would make nests in their bonnets in preparation for the eggs.