In the words of comedian Jim Gaffigan, “‘Easter! The day Jesus rose from the dead! What should we do?’ ‘How about eggs?’ ‘But what does that have to do with Jesus?’ ‘Alright, we’ll hide them! Don’t worry, there’s a bunny!'”
I myself don’t actually celebrate Easter, but it’s a fairly big deal in my neck of the woods, so for those of you like me who have pondered this holiday only to realize that bunnies don’t even lay eggs, I present a complete history of the Easter Bunny.
For starters, the eggs. It used to be traditional to abstain from the eating of eggs during Lent (the 40 days preceding Easter), and in order to keep from wasting them, the eggs would be cooked in advance and saved to be eaten on Easter morning. German Protestants treated Easter as a holiday that also welcomed in spring, so they would often add flowers to the water in which they boiled their eggs. The flowers had a tendency to dye the shells of the eggs, and over time, this evolved into the tradition of deliberately dying and decorating eggs.
The concept of the Easter Bunny also came from German Protestants. The hare had long been seen as an important religious symbol relating to both Easter and the Vernal Equinox. For celebrants of the equinox, the hare was a symbol of fertility, since hares and rabbits give birth to frequent, large litters, and it was hoped that spring would be a fertile season for both people and plants. In the medieval Christian church, the hare was a symbol of the Virgin Mary since it was believed that rabbits were hermaphrodites and could reproduce independently. As Christianity tends to do, it absorbed the Vernal Equinox into its own existing holiday, and the importance of the hare became attached to Easter. Pennsylvania Dutch communities in the United States (who were actually German, not Dutch) brought the tradition of Osterhase or “Easter hare” to America, where it evolved into the slightly more cuddly Easter Bunny. The Osterhase was said to bring the brightly colored eggs to well-behaved children on Easter Eve, reminiscent of Santa Claus. Over time, the actual eggs were replaced by the slightly more desirable treat of plastic eggs filled with candy, which is what most American children search their homes for on Easter morning today.
And in a slightly goofy twist of fate, the German Protestants tried to bring the Easter Bunny to Sweden in the late 19th century, but the Swedish word Påskharen meaning “Easter hare” was mistaken for the very similar-sounding word Påskkarlen meaning “Easter Wizard,” and by the early 20th century, Sweden had developed a widespread tradition of a wizard depositing boiled eggs in homes the night before Easter and children dressing up as witches on Easter morning.