Easter has just passed and as is tradition in the Procure Office, we’re looking at the history of the holiday. We could go back and look at Easter or the Jewish Passover, but we thought of a stranger question to ask: Where did the Easter Bunny come from? When we think Easter Bunny in the U.S., we think of a playful children’s character and the candy industry’s best friend for sales next to Halloween. Is the bunny just a corporate sales mascot or is there some weird way to make it a religious symbol?
An Ancient Symbol
The exact origins of the Easter Bunny are complicated, in truth it probably arose from a number of religions and beliefs practiced over centuries. Take what we have here with a grain of salt, because this particular rabbit doesn’t have a clear or concrete origin. We can connect rabbits to numerous periods, religions and fesitivities.
The Pagan Goddess of fertility, Eostre, has been connected to the rabbit and as a possible origin of the name Easter. Eostre herself can be traced back farther, with some connections to the Norse Freyja. Unfortunately, Freyja hasn’t got a connection to rabbits, we we know it came after her time or from other religions. In principal anyway, this is a time period so far back that we can only speculate today.
Rabbits made their way into the Christian churches as well. Today, they can be seen in stained glass and carvings across the world. There is the Three Hares motif in particular, which depicts three hares in a circle, pursuing each other, found in German, France, England, and even the Middle East. This has been related to the idea of the holy trinity and as a symbol of the Virgin Mary.
The rabbit’s involvement came to be akin to Christmas and Santa Claus. It was said to judge the good and the bad in some cultures, much like Santa does in today’s culture. A few hundred years ago, Easter was the major Christian holiday, with there being no mention or concept of Christmas, so this does make sense. As the major holiday, it would be the time for gift giving like small treats and toys.
Unlike the Easter Rabbit, the eggs are a more concrete part of the tradition. From a Christian perspective, the egg could be seen as a symbol of new life. They were used as a symbol of Jesus emerging from the tomb when he was resurrected on Easter. Eating decorated eggs was the standard tradition, just as much as Eggnog or Christmas Dinner is today. This does however beg the question: what makes the egg special?
Egg decoration as a whole can be traced back for a few thousand years. For Christianity and Easter, we can pick it up in Mesopotamia, where eggs were frequently stained red as a symbol of Jesus’s blood. The symbolism of the egg was likely boosted by Lent, which originally forbid eating eggs altogether. To preserve the eggs through lent, they could be hard boiled so they would last and be eaten at the end of lent. It may also have simply been a major part of feasting after, a desired food everyone wanted to return to.
With the Easter Bunny bringing treats, the eggs and egg hunting was an easy tradition to start once they were so thoroughly cemented in the religion. In the late 1800s, chocolate Easter eggs began to become common place. This would play a key roll in the use of artificial eggs to contain snacks and treats for kids at Easter Egg hunts as the importance of real eggs died out.
A Complex Conclusion
What we can say at the end of all of this, is that our modern cultural and religious beliefs are in many ways founded on a merging and interaction of numerous cultures. We can trace the ideas that created our modern beliefs back through time, religions, and cultures. We can also get lost along the way, as some traditions can stretch back hundreds and thousands of years, leaving little for us to find today.