Which came first, Easter or the bunny? Though the Christian holiday originally celebrated the resurrection of Christ, it is now associated with chocolate bunnies and baskets of eggs. Which ancient myths began this tradition?
The mystical creature called the Easter bunny is known to take many forms. This season you will surely see him in two of his most famous modes: tasty and bite-sized; a chocolate or marshmallow treat.
According to the National Confectioner’s Association, 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are produced each year. Each Easter season, Americans buy more than 700 million marshmallow Peeps, tiny goodies shaped like bunnies and chicks.
While you shovel the mounds of animal-shaped sugary goodness into your mouth this weekend, take a brief breather to ask yourself, “What does this ubiquitous bunny-beast even have to do with Easter, anyhow?”
How is it that the most recognizable symbol of Easter, an ostensibly Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after crucifixion, has become a massive, egg-toting rabbit?
It does not take a priest or Biblical scholar to tell you that the Bible fails to mention a monstrous, basket-carrying bunny.
Further, anyone even remotely familiar with the pictures of “sketchy” or “creepy” Easter bunnies that saturate the Internet every spring is surely aware that there is nothing particularly holy about the Easter bunny. So what gives?
Our current conception of the Easter bunny myth appears to be a composite of a whole host of disparate myths and traditions.
German immigrants are widely thought to have brought the tradition of an egg-bringing Easter hare to early America. Rabbits, like hares, are prolific breeders. If you want proof just take a look around the Quad on a warm night.
The association of rabbits with springtime likely stems from the fact that these animals have large litters in early spring, making them apt symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the March Equinox.
But how did the symbol of the hare become associated with Christianity? Some scholars contend that ancient thought about the hare being a hermaphrodite capable of reproduction without the loss of virginity led Christians to associate hares with the Virgin Mary.
Similarly, a three-hare motif, with the hares representing the Holy Trinity, is seen in many historic churches throughout Europe, possibly accounting for the association of the hare with Christ.
Why the colorful eggs? Eggs, also a symbol of fertility since antiquity, when boiled with springtime flowers, change colors. This may explain why the tradition of egg coloring coincides with the celebration of the bloom of springtime.
In many cultures, the color of the eggs has deep symbolic meaning. In some Eastern Orthodox Churches for instance, the eggs are traditionally colored red to symbolize the blood of Christ.
Egg coloring may even stem from the ancient art of Ukrainian pysanka, an egg designing tradition that is thought to be older than Christianity itself.
So this Easter, as you bust open your plastic egg and look your chocolaty bunny in his chocolaty little eyes, take a moment to reflect upon the rich history of this unusual and endearing symbol of springtime, and then enjoy the sugary goodness.