What on Earth Does the Easter Bunny Have to Do with Easter?

A couple of weeks ago, I was wandering through the mall with Tori when we stumbled upon the local Easter Bunny.

Our Easter Bunny is big, white, and wears a blue velvet smoking jacket. He sits on a padded bench in the middle of some very fake looking greenery and waves (in a fairly bored fashion) at passing children as his handlers try to corral you into a photo op.

Easter Bunny at Mall by Lynn Kelley Author

When Tori saw him, her eyes got huge.

“Mommy?” she said, using her best whisper-yell, “Mommy, what IS that?”

“It’s the Easter Bunny,” I chirped.

“The Easter Bunny?” She looked at him narrowly. “What’s he doing at the mall?”

Huh, I thought. Now that’s a good question. And the appropriate answer definitely wasn’t, “to charge us ungodly amounts of money for a Polaroid photo.”

“Well,” I said slowly, “I think he wants to know what kind of candy you want in your Easter Basket. Do you want to go over there and tell him?”

“NOOOOO!” she cried as she climbed up my leg and into my arms. “He’s scary!”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to,”  I soothed as I tried to disentangle her fists from my hair. “He’ll bring you something yummy anyway.”

And with that I walked away just as fast as I could.

However, the topic was not forgotten. That night as I was putting her to bed, it came up again. “Mommy, is that bunny going to bring me candy?”

“Yep, when you wake up on Easter, there will be a basket full of candy waiting for you!”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why does the Easter Bunny come?”

Dang it, that was another very good question. And I had no freaking clue. To satisfy her, I said, “It’s just what he likes to do. He’s the Easter version of Santa Claus!”

That shut her up long enough for me to kiss her good night and escape the room. But it got me wondering: where on earth did the Easter Bunny come from? And what does the Easter Bunny have to do with Easter?

Actual Easter Bunnies Photo by whirling_dervish, Flickr

So I did what I always do when I have a question. I asked the Internet.

But you know what? No one really knows. Not even the Google Gods.

Here’s what I was able to gather about the funny bunny’s origins from Wikipedia:

1. Rabbits were associated with the Virgin Mary in the early years of Christianity. Something about being able to procreate without the act of procreation (although I’m pretty sure bunnies do it).

2. The pagans used rabbits as a fertility symbol, and, as a matter of fact Eostre,a Germanic pagan goddess, had a bunny for a boyfriend.

3. German protestants wanted to steal the Catholics’ tradition of coloring eggs for Easter, but didn’t want to fast (eggs were not allowed during Lent).

So somewhere along the way, those crazy Germans mashed these ideas together and came up with  an egg laying hare and started telling their children that if they were good, he would leave his colored “gifts” in their caps and bonnets on the night before Easter.

They, of course, brought this tradition with them when they landed in the new world, and so, long before there was a U.S.A., there was an american Easter Bunny.

And as all things do here in this country of excess, the Easter Bunny grew until he was six feet tall and 240 pounds. He also outgrew hisEaster Bunny swilling coke, by mygothlaundry habit of making his own egg-shaped gifts, deciding to deliver sparkly baskets filled with plastic grass, cheap jelly beans, and a massive assortment of chocolate instead.

But that still doesn’t really give us a satisfying answer to the “What’s the Easter Bunny got to do with Easter,” question.

Fiction writer that I am, I see three possibilities:

  1. The Virgin Mary takes the form of a rabbit every Easter and hops around the globe giving gifts to God’s children.
  2.  Eostre got tired of those pesky Christians stealing her thunder (Easter is named for her, after all) and found a way to hijack the holiday (what kid wants to talk about crucifixes when there’s chocolate around?).
  3. Those Germans were smoking something really good when they came up with the story, and kept the entire country high until the idea of an egg-pooping bunny took hold in the public psyche.
Personally, I like the second one. But when Tori asks me? I’m sticking with the Easter’s-version-of-Santa-Claus theory.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Lynn Kelley Author, whirling_dervish, and mygothlaundry (all via flickr).

 

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