Question: Who came up with the Easter Bunny?
Answer: There’s no story in the Bible about a long-eared, cotton-tailed creature known as the Easter Bunny. Neither is there a passage about young children painting eggs or hunting for baskets overflowing with scrumptious Easter goodies.
And real rabbits certainly don’t lay eggs.
So what do these traditions have to do with Easter Sunday? Well, nothing.
Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. They were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from Christian tradition.
The origin of the celebration — and the Easter Bunny — can be traced back to 13th century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostre/Ostara was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox (the first day of spring). Thus came about the name Easter in English and Ostern in Germany. An old Teutonic myth says that one winter day the goddess Eostre was passing through a forest and found a bird dying in the snow from hunger and cold. She turned the bird into a hare because they have warm fur and can find food more easily than a bird. And so the bunny survived the winter and when the spring came the animal started laying eggs because it was once a bird. The rabbit then decorated every egg, leaving it to Eostre as a sign of gratitude. Hence the origin of the Easter egg hunt.
The Easter Bunny was first mentioned in 1682 in Georg Franck von Frankenau’s De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs), referring to an Alsace tradition of an Easter Hare bringing Easter Eggs.
The idea of an egg-laying bunny came to the U.S. in the 18th century. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the “Osterhas” (Easter Hare/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. Eventually, these nests evolved into decorated baskets and colorful eggs were swapped for candy, treats and other small gifts.
In the 18th century, German immigrants also brought the custom of Easter egg hunts into the United States. In the 19th century, Jakob Grimm (yup, one of the Grimm brothers, the fairy-tale writers) wrote about the old legend of the goddess Ostara that had previously only been carried by word of mouth until his time and was almost forgotten.
This is certainly the most popular explanation of the connection between Easter, bunnies and eggs. There are other theories but they lack full details (and cuteness). For example, one such explanation says that during the Byzantine Empire, the hare was (for unclear reasons) used as a religious symbol. Fine, factual, but uncute (minus 1 point) and doesn’t explain the eggs (minus 10 points) and the names “Easter” and “Ostern” (minus 50 points). This is why Eostre is widely quoted as the most likely candidate for the origins of Easter customs and imagery.
So while you’re scarfing down chocolate bunnies (hey, I hear chocolate is actually good for you!) and marshmallow chicks this Easter Sunday, think fondly of this holiday’s origins and maybe even impress your friends at your local Easter egg hunt.