Do we thank Germans, pagans, or Christians for the Easter Bunny and those chocolate eggs?
Saturday night before Easter Sunday, kids–and let’s face it, adults, too–fall asleep to dreams of a hoppy messenger delivering candy eggs to baskets placed by the fireplace with care. But how did a cotton-tailed, non-egg laying hare come to be a symbol of this holiday?
Legends date the tale of the Easter Bunny back to its origins as a European pagan tradition that celebrated the goddess of spring, Eostre (also written Eastre and conveniently pronounced like the Easter holiday). Worshippers held a festival in honor of the goddess around the spring equinox, which meant the party date shifted slightly each year, similar to the Easter of today.
Eostre’s ancient symbol was chosen as a rabbit presumably because the animal usually gives birth in the springtime when the weather is warm. With their incredibly high reproductive rates, rabbits also signify fertility.
A single mother cat is projected to produce up to 40,000 progeny in seven years, but rabbits blow that out of the litter box. In comparison, one female rabbit can produce nearly 185 billion offspring in the same amount of time. See why spaying and neutering is so important?
It would make sense, then, that this incredible rate of fertility brought about Easter eggs, since eggs themselves can signify new life–much like the spring season or the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, the female hormone estrogen is derived from Eostre’s name. Is it really that much of a jump to make these Easter eggs chocolate candy eggs?
Some find that Easter eggs commemorate the 13th-century Christian tradition of omitting eggs from the diet during Lent, feasting on them in the Easter morning. Russians in the 19th century reportedly gifted bedazzled eggs to each other on Easter.
Others believe it was the immigration of Germans to America in the 1700s that brought the egg-laying rabbit tradition overseas. Historically, German immigrant children prepared nests the night before the holiday for the bunny to place its colorful eggs, as long as the youth were good that year. Much like American well-behaved children leave a plate of cookies out for Santa Claus and carrots for his reindeer, 18th-century German kids keep a plate of carrots out for the Easter Bunny–in case he needs to refuel after all that bouncing.
Not all countries have the Easter Bunny. Switzerland has a cuckoo bird, Australia has the rabbit-like bilby, and parts of Germany celebrate with a fox. But in the United States, we have a floppy-eared hippity-hop bunny rabbit that brings painted eggs in Easter baskets. From eggs hatch yellow chicks… or ducks… or geese, and so evolved the practice of giving feathered babies in the Easter season.
The chocolate and Easter egg hunts are just an added bonus.
What do you think of the origins of the Easter celebration? Tell us in the comments below.
WATCH NOW: What Is Your Pet’s Favorite Holiday?