The Easter Bunny is one of the best known Easter symbols. Learn its history, and how people around the world revere rabbits and hares.
The Easter Bunny: Beloved Easter Symbol
Of all the symbols of Easter, none is more beloved than the Easter Bunny. And, of all the symbols of this season, none has a more varied, unique and universal background than this floppy-eared chocolate confection deliveryman. With his place—and yes, for some reason, the Easter Bunny is always referred to as "he"—in the traditions of many cultures, Rabbit can most certainly answer the question, "What's up, doc?" (after all, what would Elmer be without Bugs?).
The Advent of The Easter Bunny
The first documented use of the bunny as a symbol of Easter appears in Germany in the 1500s; although the actual matching of the holiday and the hare was probably a much earlier folk tradition. Not surprisingly, it was also the Germans who made the first edible Easter Bunnies in the 1800s.
The Pennsylvania Dutch brought the beneficent Easter Bunny to the United States in the 1700s. Children eagerly awaited the arrival of Oschter Haws and his gifts with a joy second only to that brought about by the winter visit of Kris Kringle.
Rabbits Revered Around the World
Many Asian and Eurasian cultures revere the rabbit (or hare) as a sacred messenger of the Divine; to the Chinese, he is a creature in the moon, pounding rice (the staff of life) in a mortar.
To the followers of Buddhism the rabbit was placed in the moon as a result of his self-sacrifice in offering himself as food. In a second version, the rabbit cooks himself in Indra's fire since he had no food to offer her and the deity placed him in the moon as a reward. To the Egyptians, the hare (as opposed to the rabbit) was known as un, which meant "to open," or "the opener." This was because the hare, unlike his cotton-tailed cousin, is born with his eyes open. "Un" also meant "period" as it was a symbol for both lunar and human cycles.
These traditions undoubtedly spread to the indigenous tribes of Western Europe much as the Indo-European language base developed through encounters between these two groups. This also blended well with Celtic tradition, which viewed the hare as a symbol of fertility and new life, and the Germanic tradition that the hare brought new life each spring.
Even in North America, the Rabbit/Hare is revered. To the Native American peoples, he was the Trickster/Transformer who either plays the Fool or, in other instances, has brought about a benefit for humankind (i.e., the legend of Rabbit bringing fire to the people). The ancient Mayan culture gives Rabbit credit for inventing Mayan writing.
Just as the ancient sacred places and names were blended into the holiday celebration we know as Easter, so too was the Rabbit/Hare molded from an ancient bringer of new life and renewal to the Easter Bunny, a symbol of a holiday celebrating a resurrection. In truth, the Rabbit stays the same: a messenger of a season when all things are possible and all things can again be new.