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Easter Bunny: Why is the Bunny a Modern Easter Tradition?


The Easter bunny is ubiquitous during the spring holiday. But why is a rabbit associate with Easter? Here’s the story of the Osterhase, or Easter Hare.

Today, the Easter bunny is one of the most recognizable Easter symbols there is, second, perhaps, only to any church banner that says, “Happy Easter,” I imagine.


What’s an egg-laying hare or rabbit have to do with the Easter holiday?

Easter bunny hare tradition
Taken by W. Mooldee via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Easter Bunny Origin

The Easter bunny is an old German Lutheran tradition, originally a kind of Santa Claus, as it was said to question the naughtiness or niceness of boys and girls.

The earliest mention of the Easter bunny, or Easter hare (Osterhase), in this case, is in the Dispvtatione Ordinaria Disqvirens De Ovis Paschalibvs (An Ordinary Dispute Inquiring on Easter Eggs) from 1682, written by Georg Franck von Franckenau and Johannes Richier.

Here’s the passage (in old-timey Latin):

§. 9. In Germania Superiore, Palatinatu nostrate, Alsatia & vicinis locis, ut & in Westphalia vocantur hæc ova Di Hasen-Fier a fabula, qua simplicioribus & infantibus imponunt Leporem (Der Oster-Hase) ejusmodi ova excludere, & in hortis in gramine, fruticctis & c. abscondere ut studiosius a pueris investigentur, cum risu & iucunditate seniorum. Et revera sæpe leporum, h. e. Imprudentium nomine possunt venire, qui ejusmodi ovis pueri valetudinis suæ magnam inveniunt jacturam; quando dein, semoto arbitro, ista justo avidius per ingluviem ingurgitant, sine sale, butiro, aut alio condimento; adeoque dolorem voluptate sibi coëmunt, ceu jam ab aliquot annis, multis sum edoctus experimentis. Hac igitur vice conabor quædam de intempestivi istorum esus noxa edisserere; utut rarissimos habeam, quos hoc in passu præeuntes sequi possim.

Dispvtatione Ordinaria Disqvirens De Ovis Paschalibvs, Georg Franck von Franckenau, Johann Richier

(I transcribed that myself from the original page, so forgive me if the Latin is slightly inaccurate!)

It basically talks about a Northern German custom (the Palatinate, Alsace, and Westphalia), where it is common practice for “a smile and enjoyment of their elders” to hide hare eggs for local kids to find. The Osterhase, or Easter Hare, hides these Easter eggs in the garden, grass, and bushes.

The passage then cautions people on the negative health aspect of how quickly the kids consume the eggs, “without salt, butter, or any other seasoning.”

If they only knew what Easter of this century would bring, huh?

The Rabbit as a Springtime Symbol

Though that’s the first mention of an actual Easter bunny, the rabbit itself had been associated with spring for far longer. Just as with Easter eggs, rabbits and hares are a sign of regeneration and spring, a fertility symbol, due to their breeding style (which is to say, a lot).

Going back hundreds of years, even to the times of Philostratus and Plutarch, it was believed that rabbits and hares were hermaphrodites. This made rabbits an easy connection with the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary.

Which is kinda funny, because…

Aside from the fact that rabbits screw like there’s no tomorrow, the Bible also says they’re filthy animals:

And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.

Leviticus 11:6 King James Version (KJV)

If you don’t think the rabbit or hare hasn’t been a Christian symbol for long, though, think again.

A common motif in some old churches in Devon, England, show three hares in a circle, connected by the ears. More than a dozen of these motifs have been found, and they date back all the way to 1450.

Later, in the 1835 book Deutsche Mythologie, Jacob Grimm would connect the bunny even more with Easter, saying, “the Easter Hare is unintelligible to me, but probably the hare was the sacred animal of OstaraOstara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian’s God.”

Our word “Easter” is believed to stem from “Eostre,” according to the 8-century scholar, Bede the Venerable.

The Modern Easter Bunny and Its Arrival in America

Medieval Europe may be the origins of the Easter bunny, but how did it get to the United States?

It seems German immigrants, mostly ones settling in and around Pennsylvania, brought this Easter tradition back in the 1700s.

According to History.com, they “transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called ‘Osterhase’ or ‘Oschter Haws.’ Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Additionally, children often left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping.”

Today, the Easter bunny is alive and well. You can find it in chocolate form, as a marshmallow, or even as one of the lead actors in Rise of the Guardians.

Well, what did you think? I hope this post has helped you understand more about the common Easter tradition of the Easter bunny. Got any questions or comments? Let’s chat below, and thanks for reading!

Christian Eilers
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Christian Eilers
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