The Easter Bunny is the
ghostof a rabbitwho carries eggs and candyto childrenin a basketon the Easter holiday. Its origin is disputed; some trace it to alleged pre-Christian fertilitylore [The claim is that Hare and Rabbit were the most fertile animalsknown and they served as symbolsof the new lifeduring the spring season; this has never been confirmed as an actual pre-Christian view] , others to the role of the hare in Christian iconography.
The Easter Bunny as an Easter symbol seems to have its origins in
Alsaceand South-West- Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 1600s. The first edible Easter bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800s, and were made of pastry and sugar.The Easter bunny was introduced to American folklore by the German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutchcountry during the 1700s. [ [http://www.lhmint.org/easter/symbols.htm Easter Symbols] from Lutheran Hour Ministromy. Accessed 2/28/08] ] The arrival of the "Oschter Haws" was considered "childhood's greatest pleasure" next to a visit from Christ-Kindel on Christmas Eve. The children believed that if they were good the "Oschter Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs.The children would build their nest in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys would use their caps and girls their bonnets to make the nests. The use of elaborate Easter baskets would come later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread throughout the country.
Rabbits and hares
rabbits and hares, are fertilitysymbols of extreme antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox.
The saying "
mad as a March hare" refers to the wild caperings of hares as the males fight over the females in the early spring, then attempt to mate with them. Since the females often rebuff the males' advances before finally succumbing, the mating behavior often looks like a crazy dance; these fights led early observers to believe that the advent of spring made the hares "mad."cite web | url = http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/sharedearth_20070209.shtml | title = Dylan Winter – Irish Hare | publisher = BBC Radio 4| accessdate = 2007-04-14 ] This bold behavior makes the hares, normally timid and retiring animals, much more conspicuous to human observation in the spring.
Rabbits and hares are both prolific breeders. The females can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first. The two litters are born separatelyFact|date=January 2008. This phenomenon is known as
superfetation. Lagomorphs mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year (hence the sayings, "to breed like bunnies" or "multiply like rabbits"). It is therefore not surprising that rabbits and hares should become fertility symbols, or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore.
Eggs are, by their nature, obvious fertility symbols. As for rabbits laying eggs, several explanations have been proposed.
Bedeof Jarrow, the etymology of the English word "Easter" comes from the Germanic month "Eostur-monath" which was the month of the year in which it was celebrated. Bede also said that the month was named for a goddess whose cult had died out named " Eostre." However, that statement from Bede is the only ancient mention of any goddess named Eostre, and the sum total of information about her. Because of the lack of any corroboration, many scholars believe that Bede was simply mistaken, and that no cult of any such goddess ever existed.
The precise origin of the ancient custom of
coloring eggsis not known. Many eastern Christians to this day typically dye their Easter eggs red [ [http://greekfood.about.com/od/greekcookingtips/ht/redeggs.htm How To Dye Red Eggs with Onion Skins for Greek Easter] by Nancy Gaifyllia from Your Guide to Greek Food on About.Com Accessed April 9, 2008] , the color of blood, in recognition of the renewal of life in springtime (and, later, the blood of the sacrificed Christ). Some also use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the long dead time of winter.
Protestants wanted to retain the Catholic custom of eating colored eggs for Easter, but did not want to introduce their children to the Catholic rite of fasting. Eggs were forbidden to Catholics during the fast of Lent, which was the reason for the abundance of eggs at Easter time. [ [http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ACalend/ShroveTues.html Shrove Tuesday Pancakes!] by Bridget Haggerty - Irish Culture & Customs, World Cultures European, paragraph 5 line 2 refers to the catholic custom of abstaining from eggs during Lent. Accessed 3/1/08]
The idea of an egg-laying bunny came to the
United Statesin the 18th century. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the "Osterhas," sometimes spelled "Oschter Haws." "Hase" means "hare," not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the "Easter Bunny" indeed is a hare, not a 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. [ [http://www.lhmint.org/easter/symbols.htm Easter Symbols] from Lutheran Hour Minisitries. Accessed 2/28/08] ] In 1835, Jakob Grimmwrote of long-standing similar myths in Germany itself. Noting many related landmarks and customs, Grimm suggested that these derived from legends of Ostara. [Grimm, Jacob (1835). "Deutsche Mythologie" (German Mythology); From English released version "Grimm's Teutonic Mythology" (1888); Available online by Northvegr © 2004-2007, Chapter 13, page [http://www.northvegr.org/lore/grimmst/013_10.php 10+] ]
The German and
Amishlegends were most likely rooted in European folklore about hares' eggs [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A18190677 Hares' Eggs] ] which seems to have been a confusion between hares raising their young at ground level and the finding of plovers' nests nearby, abandoned by the adult birds to distract predators. Hares use a hollow called a form rather than a burrow. Lapwings nest on the same sort of ground, and their nests look very similar to hare forms. So in the Spring, eggs would be found in what looked like hare forms, giving rise to the belief that the hare laid eggs in the spring. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A18190677 The Easter Bunny] via BBC. Accessed March 20, 2008.]
* [http://altreligion.about.com/library/bl_easterbunny.htm Ostara's Hare: The Pagan Origin of Easter]
* [http://landscaping.about.com/cs/pests/a/easter_rabbit.htm Easter Origins and the Easter Bunny]
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