If you celebrate Easter in North America, chances are the Easter Bunny is an essential part of your holiday experience. Most families ring in their festivities by giving children Easter baskets, participating in Easter egg hunts, making Easter Bunny-inspired crafts, and even baking spring animal cupcakes. For kids and adults alike, spring's furry mascot is both beloved and timeless.
But how did this egg-bearing hare become such a popular symbol of Easter, a holiday that, for Christians, commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ? The answer is both complex and surprising. For starters, if you haven’t brushed up on your Easter trivia lately, the Easter Bunny never appears in the Bible and despite his apparent origins with German Lutheran history and widespread adoption by other branches of Christianity. To understand how the Easter Bunny hopped into the holiday spotlight, you need to look at the dynamic history of Easter itself.
The History of the Easter Bunny
Christians observe Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon on (or after) the vernal equinox. This is the day when the majority of earth experiences nearly equal hours of sunlight and nighttime, which signals the arrival of spring in the northern hemisphere. That's why Easter falls on a different date each year.
But before Christianity was an established religion, there was a pagan holiday that also fell around the time of the March equinox, a festival for the fertility goddess Eastre or Eostre. Her symbols included the hare, along with the egg, both of which have represented new life since ancient times. Some scholars believe that in Medieval Europe, Christian missionaries hoped to convert Anglo-Saxons to Christianity by aligning Easter to the days of these pagan festivals and adopting similar traditions. This could explain how rabbits first got connected to the Christian holiday.
Whatever the Easter Bunny's origins, it's clear that he's now ubiquitous in the United States, and some people have their German ancestors to thank for that. According to History.com, when German Lutheran immigrants began arriving in Pennsylvania in the 1700s, they brought with them their tradition of an egg-laying rabbit called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” German children made nests for this animal to lay its colored eggs in, a custom which eventually spread around the United States. Later, in addition to eggs, the Easter Bunny began to leave candy and gifts for children as part of his holiday deliveries. In return, children would leave carrots out for the Easter Bunny as snacks to help fuel his busy Easter morning.
Where Does the Easter Bunny Live?
Unlike Santa’s picturesque setup in the North Pole, the permanent residence of the Easter Bunny is less well-known. Some sources believe he lives on Easter Island, located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. The island was discovered by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday in 1722. It’s said to offer lots of privacy for this famous bunny year-round, and is a convenient starting point for his journey around the world on Easter Eve.
Others believe that since Germans initially brought this tradition to the United States, that the Easter Bunny should logically live somewhere in Europe. Much like his origins, it appears his present-day whereabouts might always be a bit of a mystery.
What Does the Easter Bunny Look Like?
Based on pagan folklore and his traditionally white fur, the Easter Bunny appears to be an Arctic hare. This means he has very tall ears, and a coat that naturally camouflages him in the snow. If spring has come early, however, he may have a brown coat: Arctic hares molt or shed their fur with the changing seasons, becoming brown for better camouflage during the summer. In most Easter Bunny costumes though, you’ll typically see him flaunting his white winter look.
He also occasionally wears clothes. His common accessories include vests and bow ties in orange, the color of his favorite carrots. He typically carries a basket filled with colorful eggs, candy, and other treats to dole out to children. Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny often shows preferential treatment to well-behaved children, rewarding them with the best loot.
How Is the Easter Bunny Celebrated Around the World?
While many Easter traditions around the world feature the Easter Bunny, others are very different from what is commonly observed in the United States. One example is in Australia, where until recently, the tradition of the Easter Bunny used to be as popular as it is in America. In 1991, Rabbit-Free Australia launched a campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby, a bunny-sized marsupial. This environmental awareness effort stemmed from the devastation that non-native bunnies were wreaking on local fauna. Today in Australia, you can find plenty of chocolate Bilbies on store shelves, in addition to confectionary Easter bunnies.
In Norway, where Easter is often considered more important than Christmas, Easter chickens (“Påskekyllinger”) take precedence over the festive hare. Like bunnies, chickens are also a symbol of fertility, renewal, and the changing of the seasons. Interestingly, Norway has two non-animal traditions that are popular for the holiday: skiing and reading true crime novels.
Finally, in a Halloween-like twist, you’ll find Easter witches out and about in Finland. As the tradition goes, Finnish children, especially girls, dress up in colorful old clothes and paint freckles on their faces. They then go from door-to-door, driving away evil spirits in return for treats.
Despite all these many variations on the holiday however, the Easter Bunny remains popular in the U.S., England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Denmark. And if his history is any indication, he won’t be hopping away any time soon!
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