While you’re biting the heads off your chocolate bunnies, you might wonder how cartoon rabbits became so central to our Easter celebrations.
The Easter Tradition of Bunnies and Eggs, Candy and egg hunts, death and resurrection, Christianity and Paganism all seems a bit contradictory — what’s the connection?.
The Christian Bible states that the rabbits are unclean: “The hare, for even though it chews the cud, it does not have divided hoofs; it is unclean for you”“, but in Christian art, it is regularly associated with rebirth and resurrection.
Rabbits and hares have also been associated with Mary, mother of Jesus, for centuries. Their association with virgin birth comes from the fact that hares – often conflated mistakenly with rabbits – are able to produce a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first.
Indeed, some folklorists have suggested that the Easter Bunny derives from an ancient Anglo-Saxon myth, concerning the fertility goddess Ostara. The Encyclopedia Mythica explains that: Ostara is the personification of the rising sun. In that capacity, she is associated with the spring and is considered a fertility goddess. She is the friend of all children and to amuse them she changed her pet bird into a rabbit. This rabbit brought forth brightly colored eggs, which the Greek goddess gave to children as gifts. From her name and rites the festival of Easter is derived.
The Germanic deity Eostre from which the name Easter came to be is the goddess of spring and fertility and is associated with the rabbit animal spirit, which is believed to be a hermaphrodite. The first western Christians thought that rabbits could reproduce without any sexual contact, so they made a connection with the Virgin Mary, which led to a series of paintings, books, and manuscripts that depicted them together.
Then there is the modern egg toting bunny, originating in Germany and referenced in an ominous text which states “Do not worry if the Easter Bunny escapes you; should we miss his eggs, we will cook the nest,” the 1572 text reads. In the 18th century, German immigrants took the custom of the Easter Bunny with them to the United States and, by the end of the 19th century, sweet shops in the eastern states were selling rabbit-shaped candies, prototypes of the chocolate bunnies we have today.
So whether bunnies are unclean, symbols of prolific sexual activity, or icons of virginity, the enigmatic Easter Bunny looks likely to remain a central part of Easter celebrations – even creepy person sized bunnies.. Just where they came from, however, will probably have to remain a mystery. At least for now.