As the weather starts to warm up and spring begins to creep in, it means that Easter is just around the corner. That means Easter egg hunting, pastel palettes, and chocolates given by a giant bunny … wait, what?
Did you ever stop to wonder where the happy hare came from? And why does it have eggs? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have an Easter chicken? One thing is for certain, you won’t find any mention of a giant gift-giving rabbit in the Bible, so we know the Catholics didn’t create the long-eared, cotton-tailed fella.
It’s time to go Easter egg hunting for the answer! How did this adorable rabbit who gives eggs, dyes them and fills them with chocolate come to be associated with a Christian holiday that celebrates the rise of Christ?
The Immigration Hop
Like most American traditions and holidays, the story of an Easter rabbit was founded in the melting pot of our country. Just like St. Patrick’s Day cemented itself as a U.S. holiday largely because of the flux of Irish immigrants from the potato famine, Easter can be traced back to German American immigrants.
The Easter bunny was introduced to America by German immigrants who carried over tales of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” The reason why this mythical egg-laying mammal was a rabbit isn’t fully clear, but rabbits are known to be symbols of fertility and new life because of their prolific breeding skills. Where do you think the saying “they’re like a couple of jack rabbits” comes from? Here’s a hint, it’s the same place where babies come from.
The story goes that when a large group of German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700s, they brought over their tradition of the “Osterhase” bunny. Their children would make nests in their yards and a hopping creature would lay its colored eggs. The tradition spread across the country and it became customary that on Easter morning (as spring is in full bloom) the mystical mammal would deliver eggs – which later turned into chocolates, candies and other small gifts. The nests the children built were replaced with baskets and Easter as we know it became cemented in eggtainment lore.
Easter pro tip: Just like Santa Claus needs some cookies and milk left out for gift-delivering nourishment, the Easter bunny requires carrots to fuel his hopping prowess.
Breaking Down the Easter Egg
Eggs are symbolic of new life and were widely celebrated in pagan festivals to welcome a fresh spring. In regards to Easter being a Christian holiday, these pagan “egg beliefs” were twisted slightly to represent Jesus and his resurrection – that he died to save us and when we repent our lives are anew.
Okay, but why do people decorate eggs? Again, you have to look to Christianity to find that answer. During the Lenten season, eggs were a forbidden food – no meat, etc. As a result, people would paint and decorate them during the Lenten period in order to eat them on Easter, celebrating the end of the Lenten fasting and penance period.
Valentine’s Day is the biggest greeting card-selling holiday after Christmas, and Easter is the biggest candy-selling holiday after Halloween. So there’s clearly money to be made on egg-shaped candy! Dating back to the 19th century, chocolate eggs became the treat of choice, and by the 1930s, jelly beans (another fertility-shaped candy) also became a Easter basket staple.
Egg rolling races and hunting are also big Easter traditions with cloudy pasts. Egg hunts became popular because children used to make nests in their yards for the bunny to lay his eggs. Egg rolling races on the other hand are said to be a symbolic nod to “the rolling of the stone” away from Jesus’ tomb, spurring his resurrection.
There you have it! Easter is full of symbolic elements of rebirth and new life – and now you know why. So make this Easter egg-cellent as you celebrate a fresh start with your loved ones!