THE EASTER BUNNY Biography - Religious Figures & Icons


Biography » religious figures icons » the easter bunny


Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of extreme antiquity; since             
birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth (to large litters) in the early             
spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal             
The saying "mad as a March hare" refers to the wild caperings of hares as the               
males fight over the females in the early spring, then attempt to mate with them.           
Since the females often rebuff the males' advances before finally succumbing,               
the mating behavior often looks like a crazy dance; these fights led early                 
observers to believe that the advent of spring made the hares "mad".                       
Rabbits and hares are both lagomorphs; they are prolific breeders. The females             
can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first (the         
two are born separately); this phenomenon is known as superfetation. Lagomorphs             
mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year (hence         
the sayings, "to breed like bunnies" or "multiply like rabbits"). It is                     
therefore not surprising that rabbits and hares should become fertility symbols,           
or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore;                   
however, the notion of a rabbit that lays eggs has an uncertain past. It may               
have simply arisen from a confusion of symbolism but, like much of the holiday             
of Easter itself, it could be a direct heritage from older traditions. In                   
English, the word "Easter" etymologically comes from an ancient pagan goddess of           
the spring named Eostre, related to German Ostara. According to a popular piece             
of folklore, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter             
by turning it into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could             
still lay eggs, and that rabbit became the modern Easter Bunny.                             
The precise origin of the custom of coloring eggs is not known, although it too             
is ancient; Greeks to this day typically dye their Easter eggs red, the color of           
blood, in recognition of the renewal of life in springtime (and, later, the                 
blood of the sacrificed Christ). Some also use the color green, in honor of the             
new foliage emerging after the long "dead" time of winter. Other colors,                   
including the pastels popular in the United States and elsewehere (possibly                 
symbolizing the rainbow), seem to have come along later.                                   
German Protestants wanted to retain the Catholic custom of eating colored eggs             
for Easter, but did not want to introduce their children to the Catholic rite of           
fasting. Eggs were forbidden to Catholics during the fast of Lent, which was the           
reason for the abundance of eggs at Easter time.[citations needed]                         
The idea of an egg-laying bunny came to the United States in the 18th century.             
German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the "Osterhase". 
"Hase" means "hare", not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the "Easter             
Bunny" indeed is a hare, not a rabbit. According to the legend, only good                   
children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their               
caps and bonnets before Easter.                                                             
A hundred years later, Jakob Grimm wrote of long-standing similar myths in                 
Germany itself. Noting many related landmarks and customs, Grimm suggested that             
these derived from legends of Ostara.