Who Invented The Easter Bunny
April 8, 2012 by staff
Who Invented The Easter Bunny, Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of extreme antiquity; since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth (to large litters) in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox.
The saying “mad as a March Hare” refers to the wild caperings of hares as the males fight over the females in the early spring, then attempt to mate with them, because they are horny. Since the females often rebuff the males’ advances before finally succumbing, the mating behavior often looks like a crazy dance; these fights led early observers to believe that the advent of spring made the hares “mad”.
Rabbits and hares are both lagomorphs; they are prolific breeders. The females can conceive a second litter of offspring while still pregnant with the first (the two are born separately); this phenomenon is known as superfetation. Lagomorphs mature sexually at an early age and can give birth to several litters a year (hence the saying, “to breed like bunnies”). It is therefore not surprising that rabbits and hares should become fertility symbols, or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore; however, the notion of a rabbit that lays eggs seems to have emerged from a confusion of two formerly separate symbolisms.
The precise origin of the custom of colouring eggs is not known, although it too is ancient; Greeks to this day typically dye their Easter eggs red, the color of blood, in recognition of the renewal of life in springtime (and, later, the blood of the sacrificed Christ). Some also use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the long “dead” time of winter. Other colors, including the pastels (possibly symbolizing the rainbow, another seasonal sign of luck and hope), seem to have come along later. The act of eating coloured eggs at the Spring Equinox can be considered a form of sympathetic magic or prayer for increased fertility, and for a bountiful harvest later in the year.
German Protestants wanted to retain the Catholic custom of eating colored eggs for Easter, but did not want to introduce their children to the Catholic rite of fasting. Eggs were forbidden to Catholics during the fast of Lent, which was the reason for the abundance of eggs at Easter time.
The idea of an egg-laying rabbit came to the United States in the 18th century. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the “Osterhase”. “Hase” means “hare”, not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the “Easter Bunny” indeed is a hare, not a rabbit.
Only good children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their caps and bonnets before Easter. Presumably, the “Oschter Haws” laid them when the children were not looking.
A hundred years later Jakob Grimm wrote of long-standing similar myths in Germany itself. Noting many related landmarks and customs, Grimm suggested that these derived from legends of Ostara.
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