Every Easter, in front yards, churchyards and parks across America, children scurry about, searching for brightly colored eggs. But, stop and think for a moment. Where did the notion of an egg-laying, egg-painting bunny actually come from — and, more to the point, how did it become associated with Christianity?
According to history.com, the Easter Bunny purportedly was introduced here by German immigrants in the 1700s, who brought stories of an egg-laying hare to Pennsylvania. Their children were encouraged to make nests for a fabled rabbit, called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws,” to lay its colorful eggs. That custom likely took the contemporary form of a basket filled with chocolate rabbits, jelly beans and Peeps.
Another theory, according to a Time article, ties the rabbit symbol itself with a pagan festival celebration of Eostre and the goddess of fertility. Rabbits naturally are the symbol of fertility because of their high reproduction rates.
Whether that’s true or not, the Christian tradition of the Easter Bunny, however, has distinctly Christian roots, catholic.org maintains. During the medieval period, rabbits were associated with the Virgin Mary. Rabbits appeared in illuminated manuscripts, serving as an allegorical illustration of her virginity. The suggestion of a connection with paganism, according to catholic.org, rose from a folklorist who had no hard evidence, other than speculation.
Good Housekeeping, interestingly, notes that it’s not a bunny that brings the eggs and treats in some other countries. In Australia, the Easter Billy, a rabbit-like marsupial, does; in Switzerland, it’s a cuckoo; and in some parts of Germany, it’s a fox or rooster.
As for decorating the eggs, the tradition dates back at least to the 13th century, according to history.com. It is thought that eggs were a forbidden food during Lent, and Christians decorated eggs and later ate them on Easter to celebrate when their fasting was over. For some Christians, the eggs have come to connote the emergence of Jesus from the tomb and His promise of new life that His resurrection substantiates.
An evangelist from Ontario, Canada, Steve Russo, offered this timeless advice to parents in a Baptist Press article: “Our main concern must be keeping what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection the main focus of Easter and not letting any holiday traditions, including the Easter Bunny, diminish the reason for our celebration. It’s not necessary to deprive your children of good fiction so long as they understand the difference between fact and fiction. If you are careful and wise in how you incorporate the Easter Bunny tradition, it can be fun for you and your children and also provide a great springboard for your family’s discussion about why we celebrate Easter.”