The Easter BunnyThe Easter Bunny has a long history. It was brought to America from Germany by immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area. It has become an integral part of the American Easter tradition and has to a lesser degree been accepted in the UK.
What Is the Easter Bunny?The Easter Bunny is usually considered to be a benevolent, vaguely supernatural creature that brings gifts to good boys and girls. Today these gifts are usually in the form of chocolate Easter eggs.
The origin of the Easter Bunny probably goes back to the festival's connection with the pagan goddess Eostre. Eostre (sometimes spelt Oestre) was a fertility goddess from whom we derive the word "oestrogen" and she is closely associated with fertility symbols such as eggs. The rabbit is known as a highly fertile creature and hence an obvious choice for Easter symbolism.
In fact the use of a rabbit is probably a mistake - the Easter "bunny" is more likely to be a hare, since it is the hare that is usually considered the sacred creature of Eostre. Hares have been considered sacred by many cultures inclusing the ancient Egyptians who believed them to watch the moon during the night. Although hares and rabbits are related they are most definitely different creatures, as a certain Bugs keeps reminding us!
The earliest known reference to our modern Easter Bunny tradition appears to be from 16th century Germany. In the 18th century, German settlers to America brought the tradition with them. The Bunny was known by them as Oschter Haws (or Osterhase) and brought gifts of chocolate, candy and Easter Eggs to good children. Often children would make up nests for Oschter Haws, sometimes using their Easter bonnets, and the Bunny would leave his treats there.
Fewer children today have bonnets or build nests, however it is common in some places for the Easter Bunny to scatter and/ or hide its treats for the children to find on an Easter egg hunt. A Bunny costume is a also popular suit for the festivities.
The idea of a giant supernatural rabbit that lays millions of chocolate eggs in one night is, of course, incongruous and ridiculous. Fortunately that is no problem for the imaginations of young children.