The Easter Bunny is fabled in story and song, but where did this lovable, candy-and-egg-laden creature come from?
As one of the most important Christian holidays, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but there were no bunnies mentioned in the Bible.
German immigrants, who have a long tradition of an egg-laying rabbit, called the “Osterhase” (literally translated, Easter rabbit), may have been the ones who brought the Easter Bunny tale with them to the United States in the 1700s, according to History.com. “The exact origins of this mythical mammal are unclear, but rabbits, known to be prolific procreators, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life.”
Another theory is that of the pagan tradition known as the festival of Eostre, which celebrated a goddess of fertility. Her animal symbol was — not surprisingly — a rabbit. This could also explain the eggs, which are also a symbol of fertility.
However, it may be more likely that the bunny and the eggs come from Christian practices. According to Catholic Online, “The ancient Greeks thought rabbits could reproduce as virgins. Such a belief persisted until early medieval times when the rabbit became associated with the Virgin Mary.”
A hybrid version of both theories is that as Christianity spread throughout the world, missionaries would sometimes insert pagan ideas and rituals into the context of the Christian faith, turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays.
History points to the fact that hundreds of years ago, people were directed by their religious leaders to not eat eggs during Lenten season, but were again allowed to eat them on Easter.
“Because eggs were one of the most important foodstuffs covered by the dietary injunctions of Lent … the end of this long period of purification and abstinence … was celebrated by a blessing of eggs in church,” wrote Terence Scully, a medieval French scholar, in “The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages.”
Scully thinks the tradition of decorating eggs for Easter got started during medieval times. “These eggs, stained and gaudily decorated with the happiest of bright colors in anticipation of their return to the dining board, were exchanged as gifts among friends and relatives; quite naturally they became known as Easter Eggs,” Scully wrote.
All of the sweets and small gifts that adorn today’s Easter baskets likely adapted due to the marketing techniques of candy manufacturers.
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