Where Did the Easter Bunny Come From?
Hopping down the historic bunny trail
Although the hare had been celebrated as a symbol of fertility long before the birth of Jesus, it was not until the 1500s that its cousin, the rabbit, was introduced as a character representing renewal and rebirth at Easter.
What are the physical differences between the ancient hare and the relatively modern Easter bunny?
Rabbits have shorter legs and therefore move in little hops, while hares have longer rear legs and can jump far distances. Baby rabbits, or bunnies (except maybe the Easter Bunny), are helpless when they are born because their eyes are closed and they have no fur. Baby hares have their eyes open at birth and they are born with full fur; they can hop soon after they are born. Also, most rabbits live underground, but hares live above ground.
Earliest recordings of the Easter Hare, or Oschter Haws the white Easter hare, were made in Germany during the 1500s. This is the same country where, in the 1800s the first edible bunny treats were made out of pastry and sugar, and also the same country that introduced the Easter bunny to the U.S. in Pennsylvania, in the 1700s.
On the night before Easter, little boys and girls would design nests from their caps and bonnets and leave them in protected areas outside, often close to the barn where the Easter Bunny would be sure to visit for the feed. They hoped that Oschter Haws would lay colorful eggs in the nest for them to find in the morning - considering the moveable date of Easter, the children must have had their doubts as to whether the bunny would appear on the years when Easter came early and the weather was much colder!
By the 19th century the Easter Hare transformed into the Easter Rabbit and later into the Easter Bunny. Although it was not until after the Civil War that Easter was widely adopted in the United States, it is now accepted as a celebration of springtime renewal and the resurrection of Jesus. The Easter Bunny has retained his place as the provider of dyed Easter eggs and chocolate Easter eggs, as well as a whole host of other delectable treats.
In fact, various reproductions of the Easter Bunny himself show up in baskets all over the world. Favorites include hollow and solid chocolate bunnies and tiny marshmallow replicas. Even real bunnies show up sometimes, though you might want to rethink your own impulse to adopt one; these animals are not easy to care for and are often found abandoned, hurt and dying in great multitudes during the weeks after Easter.