Easter, along with Christmas, is a holiday that is based out of the Christian religion. For people of the Christian faith, (the religious faith that much of our Western culture is based upon) traditional holidays like Easter have very special meanings and are a celebration of certain things that have to do with religious faith. Easter is a religious observance of the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ. While many people do focus their observance of Easter on religious aspects there are many secular items that overlap in the observance of Easter and surprisingly predate the Christian religion. One of these is the use of rabbits (bunnies) in ancient rituals and worship that has led to the modern day Easter Bunny. Yet much of our information is simply the stuff of legends passed down through the centuries. Since there is no more iconic figure to Easter than the Easter bunny it is important to take a look and ask, “Where did this character come from and what does it represent?”
As mentioned above the idea of the Easter Bunny comes from early pagan traditions. The Easter traditions of the Easter Bunny and Easter Eggs do not have any real ties to the Christian celebration of Easter but rather these Easter traditions, that are practiced today, have evolved from pagan symbols. The timing of the Christian celebration of Easter is around the time of the vernal equinox, which is linked historically with a pagan celebration that coincides with the arrival of spring. This pagan celebration also symbolizes the arrival of light and the awakening of the life around us with the idea of spring bringing new life, etc. Even the name “Easter” itself has its basis in pagan traditions. It is believed that the name is spawned from the Saxon goddess of Eostre (or Eastre or Ostara) who was the goddess of the dawn and the spring. Eostre, was a fertility goddess who brought an end to winter making days longer and brighter with a passion for “new life”. Believers felt that Eostre’s presence could be felt by all in the spring as the newly flowering plants, and the new births of babies both human and animal were happening all around. This is where one can start to see the formation of the “Easter Bunny” because the animal associated with this goddess as her sacred animal was the rabbit because of this animal’s well known rapid production and fertility prosperity. In addition Easter eggs and “Easter Bunnies” were both featured in the festivals of “Eostre” which were initially held during the pagan feasts of the goddess Ishtar. These ancient pagans used eggs in the celebration because these are obvious symbols of fertility with newborn chicks also being a great representation of new life. During these feasts and festivals the pagan’s worshiping would use brightly colored eggs, chicks, and “bunnies” to express their appreciation of the abundance “Eostre” had provided for them.
When it comes to the actual character that we know as the “Easter bunny” the legend claims that the goddess “Eostre”, or Ostara as she is also known, felt very bad for arriving late one spring (the season of spring must have actually been late in its coming the year this legend was born) and in order to help make amends for this she decided to save the life of a poor bird whose wings had frozen in the snow. Eostre made this bird her pet. Feeling compassion for this bird of hers because he no longer had the ability to fly Eostre decided to turn him into a snow hare named “Lepus”. The legend also states that she gave him the ability to run very fast so he could avoid hunters and she also gave him one more special gift. In remembrance of his life as a bird Eostre gave Lepus the ability to lay “eggs”. Not only could the newly formed Lepus lay eggs but these eggs would also come out in all the different colors of the rainbow. Sadly, there was only one downfall to this great ability Lepus had, he could only lay these eggs on one day each year, on the day that the festival of Eostre was celebrated. And from these simple legends sprang the beloved Easter Bunny with his basket full of colored eggs that still thrives today.