Whether you think he looks cuddly or creepy, the Easter bunny is an essential part of modern-day Easter celebrations. The idea is that the Easter bunny sneaks into your home at night and lays baskets full of some beautifully decorated eggs for you to enjoy during the holiday.
Wait, what? This bit of folklore is strange enough on its own, but when you think about the fact that it's related to a holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus, it's especially difficult to see the connection. What's the deal with the Easter bunny?
Like most customs that are a part of our holiday celebrations, the origins of the Easter bunny are a bit hairy, pun definitely intended. In fact, the Easter bunny's origins probably have nothing to do with Christianity at all.
Some say that the Easter bunny came out of a pagan festival celebrating the goddess of dawn Eostre who was linked to hares and eggs, both symbols of fertility, although there is some debate about Eostre's connections to Easter. Others say that hares have long been associated with the renewal of life because of their tendency to reproduce rapidly.
The Easter bunny as we know it today probably originated in a German legend about an egg-laying hare by the name of "Osterhase" or Oschter Haws" that dates back to the 16th century. Children would make nests for the rabbit to lay its multi-colored eggs in. German immigrants brought this tradition over to the United States in the 18th century when they settled in Pennsylvania.
As the legend of the Easter bunny became more popular, it didn't just lay eggs but also delivered other gifts to children on Easter Sunday, such as toys and chocolates, and Easter baskets eventually replaced nests. However, the term "Easter bunny" didn't appear in English until 1900.
Speaking of chocolate, chocolate bunnies come from Germany too. Chocolate bunnies first appeared in the U.S. in the 19th century, really taking off around 1890 after Robert L. Strohecker displayed a five-foot-tall chocolate bunny in his drugstore for Easter. And that disappointing feeling you get when you bite into a chocolate bunny only to discover that it's hollow on the inside? Yeah, that started around 1939 when hollow molds were introduced. Unfortunately, as with many extraneous but delightful items, the War Production Board halted the manufacturing of novelty chocolate goodies like bunnies during World War II "to conserve cocoa for staple civilian and military purposes, such as breakfast cocoa and candy bars, rather than for decorative purposes." But when World War II ended, chocolate bunnies were back and in our bellies in no time.
These days, the Easter bunny has essentially morphed into Easter's version of Santa Claus. The Easter bunny is supposed to bring children gifts on Easter Sunday. It got its own Rankin-Bass special in 1971 with Here Comes Peter Cottontail, which also featured the Gene Autry song of the same name. Kids line up in malls across the country to get their photo taken with the Easter bunny too these days.
Unfortunately, the Easter bunny has also become one of the more terrifying-looking holiday mascots out there. Well, that actually sounds about right for this odd creature.
Photo: Ethan Hickerson | Flickr