Published March 06, 2014
While Easter has always been an intensely religious holiday, many of the celebrations that surround the holiday in today’s society are far more secular than religious. The brightly colored eggs, the bunny who hides them, and even the Easter baskets themselves have very little to do with the religious portion of the ceremony. Wondering how a big bunny fits into this holy day on the Christian calendar? The origins actually date back to Germany in the 1500s.
Spring was long known as the season of rebirth, and one of the most fertile symbols of the season was a rabbit. It’s been said that one of Germany’s pagan goddesses named Ostara used the rabbit as a symbol. The story goes that she would turn birds into a rabbit to entertain the children. The rabbit would then lay eggs to give to the children as presents.
Ostara, though, isn’t the only name you may see. There are a variety of different names for her in the history books including Eostre and Eostra. There have even been suggestions that she didn’t exist. Instead, some say, the Venerable Bede invented her in one of his books.
While it’s not clear exactly when the tradition of the Easter Bunny began to mix with the growing trend of Christianity, there is some evidence that by the 15th century, it was already becoming a stronger symbol. At the time, it remained a simple symbol of the holiday.
In the mid-1700s, German settlers were moving into the American colonies, and with them came the traditional bunny symbol. Young children at the time thought the bunny, dubbed Oschter Haws, would lay a nest of eggs, brightly colored, if the children were good. By the time of the Civil War, the tradition was spreading throughout the U.S. fairly quickly.
By the 1800s, Germans were beginning to produce edible bunnies to help celebrate the holiday. The first bunnies were pastries, but from there, the tradition began to spread heavily. Eventually, pastries turned to the chocolate bunnies so many look forward to today.
The Added Traditions
The Easter Bunny has a number of add-on traditions, many of which have been part of the tradition from the early days. From the earliest recordings, eggs have been part of the story of the Easter Bunny. They were even colorful at the time. While the eggs have long since morphed into plastic eggs filled with treats, they remain an important part of the holiday. Wondering why eggs were the choice? They’re not only a symbol of fertility, but they were also plentiful as spring came around. They were colored with a variety of natural materials in the early days.
The Easter baskets are a big part of this story, too. The story originally included a nest that children made for the Easter Bunny. The nests were initially made from a boy’s cap or a girl’s bonnet, which may have led to the tradition of elaborate bonnets for the girls. Slowly the nests morphed into baskets as the tradition continued to spread.
No matter where the Easter Bunny came from, this spring tradition is only getting bigger as it moves forward. While it may seem a spring Santa these days, the rich history suggests differently.