Jack Thomas '23
Readers of The Exchanged, who will soon, or have already commenced with springtime festivities, I am writing today to discuss the origins of one of the most prominent figures of springtime celebrations: the Easter Bunny. For those who celebrate Easter, the Easter Bunny is a mythic creature who hides colorful eggs and candy for children, brightening up the holiday for many young children across the globe. He comes and hides his eggs at night, similar to how his winter counterpart, Santa Claus, delivers presents. The Easter Bunny however, does not have a clear origin like Santa. The character does not appear in scripture, and it certainly did not evolve from an old saint, like St. Nicholas. So let's take a close look at where the Easter Bunny came from, and how he came to be.
Easter symbolizes new life for Jesus and thus, we should begin our search there. Eggs are a symbol for new life, and according to TIME, churches “had their congregations abstain from eggs during Lent, allowing them to be consumed again on Easter”, hence the celebration surrounding eggs on the day. But this origin has more to do with eggs than the Easter Bunny. The pagan Festival of Eostre (which incidentally sounds quite similar to Easter) had much more to do with the Bunny itself . The festival celebrates Eostre, the goddess of fertility, whose symbol was bunnies. Bunnies symbolize fertility due to the number of their offspring. Eostre is referred to in Bede’s De Temporum Ratione or The Reckoning of Time, written in 725 CE. So, we see that the Easter Bunny has existed in some form over a millenia ago, and was likely adopted into the Christian faith when Anglo-Saxons were christianized around the 8th century.
Hares seems to have integrated themselves into the Christian faith quite well. The image of “three running hares joined by the tips of their ears to form a triangle” can be found on several medieval cathedrals in Britain, such as St. David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, and Chester Cathedral, as well as churches in Scarborough and Yorkshire. The symbol is not limited to Britain. Other instances of the three hares can be seen in Europe, the Middle East, and Russia (The Field). This image appears most often in the central rib of the roof or nave. These places are important places in a church. The appearance of the hare indicates the large extent to which the hare has entered the Church.
But how did the hare become the easter bunny that many Americans have come to love? The answer lies with German immigrants in Pennsylvania. The German celebration originated from farming traditions in Germany. The Lenten fast meant that farmers “had a surplus of eggs, so they would often pay these dues [rent] with cooked eggs and hares they had killed in their fields”. By the 18th Century, the association between hares and eggs and Easter had grown into the” Osterhase” or Easter Hare, who left eggs in nests that were prepared by the children. When German immigrants came to Pennsylvania in the early 1700’s, they brought with them their Easter tradition, introducing it to the American continent. This tradition spread throughout the nation. Many Christian families celebrate Easter with the Easter Bunny, who now brings candy as well as eggs. Rutherford B. Hayes held the first White House Easter Egg Roll in 1878. In 1974, It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown! aired and is still a popular Easter special. So if you celebrate Easter this year, you now know that the eggs you are receiving are due to a pagan Osterhase from Germany.
Harvard Library at Easter Island