Easter Bunny

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Easter Bunny
A 1907 postcard featuring the Easter Bunny
GroupingLegendary creature
Sub groupingAnimal
FolkloreFolkloric figure and symbol of Easter
Other name(s)Easter Rabbit, Easter Hare

The Easter Bunny (also called the Easter Rabbit or Easter Hare) is a folkloric figure and symbol of Easter, depicted as a rabbit—sometimes dressed with clothes—bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the "Easter Hare" originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behavior at the start of the season of Eastertide,[1] similar to the "naughty or nice" list made by Santa Claus. As part of the legend, the creature carries colored eggs in its basket, as well as candy, and sometimes toys, to the homes of children. As such, the Easter Bunny again shows similarities to Santa (or the Christkind) and Christmas by bringing gifts to children on the night before a holiday. The custom was first mentioned in Georg Franck von Franckenau's De ovis paschalibus ("About Easter Eggs") in 1682, referring to a German tradition of an Easter Hare bringing eggs for the children.[2][3]


Rabbits and hares

Inflatable Easter Bunny in front of San Francisco City Hall

The hare was a popular motif in medieval church art. In ancient times, it was widely believed (as by Pliny, Plutarch, Philostratus, and Aelian) that the hare was a hermaphrodite.[4][5][6] The idea that a hare could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary, with hares sometimes occurring in illuminated manuscripts and Northern European paintings of the Virgin and Christ Child. It may also have been associated with the Holy Trinity, as in the three hares motif.[4][7][unreliable source?][8]


In Christianity, for the celebration of Eastertide, Easter eggs symbolize the empty tomb of Jesus, from which Jesus was resurrected.[9][10][11] Eggs became associated with Easter specifically when eating them was prohibited during the fast of Lent, when believers abstaned from meat and animal products—a practice that continues in certain Christian denominations today, such as the Coptic Orthodox Church, and among Western Christians observing the Daniel Fast.[12][13][14] A common practice in England during the medieval Christian era was for children to go door-to-door begging for eggs on the Saturday before Lent began. People handed out eggs as special treats for children to enjoy prior to the Lenten fast; people then abstained from eggs throughout Lent and could enjoy them once again with the conclusion of Lent at the arrival of Easter Sunday.[15][16] As a special dish, eggs have been decorated by Christians as part of the Easter celebrations. Eggs boiled with some flowers change their color, bringing the spring into the homes, and some over time added the custom of decorating the eggs.[17][18] Many Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Church to this day typically dye their Easter eggs red "in memory of the blood of Christ, shed as at that time of his crucifixion."[11][19][16] The Ukrainian art of decorating eggs, known as pysanky. Similar variants of this form of artwork are seen among other eastern and central European cultures.[20]

The idea of an egg-giving hare went to the U.S. in the 18th century. Protestant German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the "Osterhase" (sometimes spelled "Oschter Haws"[21]). Hase means "hare", not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the "Easter Bunny" indeed is a hare. 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.[22]


Alleged association with Ēostre

In a publication from 1874 German philologist Adolf Holtzmann stated "The Easter Hare is unintelligible to me, but probably the hare was the sacred animal of Ostara".[23] The connection between Easter and that goddess had been made by Jacob Grimm in his 1835 Deutsche Mythologie.[24] This proposed association was repeated by other authors including Charles Isaac Elton[25] and Charles J. Billson.[26] In 1961 Christina Hole wrote, "The hare was the sacred beast of Eastre (or Ēostre), a Saxon goddess of Spring and of the dawn."[27][page needed] The belief that Ēostre had a hare companion who became the Easter Bunny was popularized when it was presented as fact in the BBC documentary Shadow of the Hare (1993).[28]

The Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore however states "nowadays, many writers claim that hares were sacred to the Anglo-Saxon goddess Ēostre, but there is no shred of evidence for this; Bede, the only writer to mention Ēostre, does not link her with any animal".[29]

A legend often encountered in contemporary times is that Eostre freed a frozen bird from a tree branch by turning it into a hare. It still continued to lay eggs but, having no use for them anymore and in gratitude to the goddess, gave them away.[30][31] This has no basis in any authentic, pre-Christian folklore, myth or religion and only appears to date from 1883, first published by K. A. Oberle in a book in German and later quoted by H. Krebs in a notes section in the journal Folk-Lore, also in 1883. His quote is as follows:

Some time ago the question was raised how it came that, according to South German still prevailing folk-lore, the Hare is believed by children to lay the Easter-eggs. I venture now to offer a probable answer to it. Originally the hare seems to have been a bird which the ancient Teutonic goddess Ostara (the Anglo-Saxon Eàstre or Eostre, as Bede calls her) transformed into a quadruped. For this reason the Hare, in grateful recollection of its former quality as bird and swift messenger of the Spring-Goddess, is able to lay eggs on her festival at Easter-time.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Cross, Gary (2004). Wondrous Innocence and Modern American Children's Culture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195348132.
  2. ^ Franck von Franckenau, Georg (1682). Disputatione ordinaria disquirens de ovis paschalibus / von Oster-Eyern. Satyrae Medicae. Vol. XVIII. Heidelberg. p. 6. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  3. ^ Winick, Stephen. "On the Bunny Trail: In Search of the Easter Bunny," LOC Blogs, Mar. 22, 2016. Retrieved Mar. 24, 2024.
  4. ^ a b Chapman, Chris (2004). "What does the Symbol Mean?". Three Hares Project. Archived from the original on 13 May 2020. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  5. ^ Marta Powell Harley (1985). "Rosalind, the hare, and the hyena in Shakespeare's As You Like It". Shakespeare Quarterly. 36 (3): 335–337. doi:10.2307/2869713. JSTOR 2869713. Archived from the original on 2023-04-09. Retrieved 2020-04-07.
  6. ^ "Sir Thomas Browne (1646; 6th ed., 1672) Pseudodoxia Epidemica III:xvii (pp. 162–166)". Archived from the original on 2023-04-09. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
  7. ^ "Three Hares as representation of the Trinity". Threehares.blogspot.com. 2006-02-25. Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
  8. ^ Lewis-Stempel, John (2019). The Private Life of the Hare. Transworld. ISBN 9781473542501.
  9. ^ Anne Jordan (5 April 2000). Christianity. Nelson Thornes. ISBN 9780748753208. Easter eggs are used as a Christian symbol to represent the empty tomb. The outside of the egg looks dead but inside there is new life, which is going to break out. The Easter egg is a reminder that Jesus will rise from His tomb and bring new life. Orthodox Christians dye boiled eggs red to make red Easter eggs that represent the blood of Christ shed for the sins of the world.
  10. ^ The Guardian, Volume 29. H. Harbaugh. 1878. Just so, on that first Easter morning, Jesus came to life and walked out of the tomb, and left it, as it were, an empty shell. Just so, too, when the Christian dies, the body is left in the grave, an empty shell, but the soul takes wings and flies away to be with God. Thus you see that though an egg seems to be as dead as a stone, yet it really has life in it; and also it is like Christ's dead body, which was raised to life again. This is the reason we use eggs on Easter. (In days past some used to color the eggs red, so as to show the kind of death by which Christ died,-a bloody death.)
  11. ^ a b Gordon Geddes, Jane Griffiths (22 January 2002). Christian belief and practice. Heinemann. ISBN 9780435306915. Red eggs are given to Orthodox Christians after the Easter Liturgy. They crack their eggs against each other's. The cracking of the eggs symbolizes a wish to break away from the bonds of sin and misery and enter the new life issuing from Christ's resurrection.
  12. ^ Samaan, Moses (9 April 2009). "The Meaning of the Great Lent". Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California, and Hawaii. Retrieved 10 March 2024. The Church teaches us to fast until sunset. Fish is not allowed during this period. Also married couples should refrain from physical relations to give themselves time for fasting and prayer (1 Cor. 7: 5). We would like to emphasize the importance of the period of strict abstention during fasting. It is refraining from eating and drinking for a period of time, followed by eating vegetarian food. ... True fasting must be accompanied by abstention from food and drink until sunset as designated by the Church.
  13. ^ "Lent: Daniel Fast Gains Popularity". HuffPost. Religion News Service. February 7, 2013. Retrieved December 30, 2018. In some cases, entire churches do the Daniel Fast together during Lent. The idea strikes a chord in Methodist traditions, which trace their heritage to John Wesley, a proponent of fasting. Leaders in the African Methodist Episcopal Church have urged churchgoers to do the Daniel Fast together, and congregations from Washington to Pennsylvania and Maryland have joined in.
  14. ^ Hinton, Carla (20 February 2016). "The Fast and the Faithful: Catholic parish in Oklahoma takes up Lenten discipline based on biblical Daniel's diet". The Oklahoman. Retrieved 27 March 2022. Many parishioners at St. Philip Neri are participating in the Daniel fast, a religious diet program based on the fasting experiences of the Old Testament prophet Daniel. ... participating parishioners started the fast Ash Wednesday (Feb. 10) and will continue through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.
  15. ^ McRoy, Anthony (2024). "How the Fast of Lent Gave Us Easter Eggs". Christianity Today. Retrieved 1 April 2024.
  16. ^ a b D'Costa, Krystal. "Beyond Ishtar: The Tradition of Eggs at Easter". Scientific American. Archived from the original on 28 March 2018. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  17. ^ Thompson, Kenneth (21 August 2013). Culture & Progress: Early Sociology of Culture, Volume 8. Routledge. p. 138. ISBN 9781136479403. In Mesopotamia children secured during the 40-day period following Easter day as many eggs as possible and dyed them red, "in memory of the blood of Christ shed at that time of his Crucifixion"--a rationalization. Dyed eggs were sold in the market, green and yellow being favorite colors. The use of eggs at Easter seems to have come from Persia into the Greek Christian Churches of Mesopotamia, thence to Russia and Siberia through the medium of Orthodox Christianity. From the Greek Church the custom was adopted by either the Roman Catholics or the Protestants and then spread through Europe.
  18. ^ Snodgrass, Lucie L. (March 2005). "DYED IN Tradition". Academic Search Complete. No. 329. Vegetarian Times.
  19. ^ Henry Ellis (1877). Popular antiquities of Great Britain. p. 90. Retrieved 26 March 2016. Hyde, in his Oriental Sports (1694), tells us one with eggs among the Christians of Mesopotamia on Easter Day and forty days afterwards, during which time their children buy themselves as many eggs as they can, stain them with a red colour in memory of the blood of Christ, shed as at that time of his crucifixion. Some tinge them with green and yellow.
  20. ^ Hallett, Vicky (March 31, 2003). "Egg-cellent art". Academic Search Complete. Vol. 134, no. 10. U.S. News & World Report.
  21. ^ "Gruß vom Osterhasen: Oschter Haws Song". Germanworldonline.com. 2011-04-23. Archived from the original on 2013-06-03. Retrieved 2013-03-31.
  22. ^ Easter Symbols Archived 2008-03-12 at the Wayback Machine from Lutheran Hour Ministries. Accessed 2/28/08
  23. ^ Holtzmann, Adolf (1874). Deutsche Mythologie. Leipzig: B. G. Teubner. p. 141.
  24. ^ Grimm, Jacob (1835). Deutsche Mythologie. Göttingen: Dietrichsche Buchhandlung. pp. 181–182.
  25. ^ Elton, Charles Isaac (1882). Origins of English History. London: Bernard Quaritch. pp. 407–408.
  26. ^ Charles J Billson (1892). Folk-Lore vol. 3 issue 4
  27. ^ Christina Hole (1961). Easter and its Customs
  28. ^ Attenborough, Sir David (Presenter) (April 12, 1993). Wildlife on One Easter Special Shadow of the Hare (Television). United Kingdom: BBC.
  29. ^ Simpson, Jacqueline; Roud, Steve, eds. (2003). "hares". Dictionary of English Folklore. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-1917-2664-4.
  30. ^ Breathnach, Sarah Ben (1990). Mrs. Sharp's Traditions.
  31. ^ 2002. Cricket. (magazine)
  32. ^ Krebs, H. (1883). Folk-Lore. p. 122.

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