By Patrick D. Bonin
Hopping right behind Santa Claus in most kids’ minds is the Easter Bunny, who will once again spring into action bright and early this Sunday morning.
While the tradition of Santa bringing gifts to children in honor of Jesus’ birth is pretty straightforward, the origin of the Easter Bunny celebrating His resurrection with eggs and candy might leave you scratching your head.
So how did a rabbit and brightly colored eggs become associated with Jesus rising from the dead on Easter morning?
According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the Easter Bunny is traced back to 13th-century pre-Christian Germany, when people worshipped several gods and goddesses.
“Eostra” was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. She was symbolized by a rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.
And after cold, harsh winters, spring symbolized new life and rebirth. Easter eggs represent Jesus resurrection, according to History.com. But this association came about much later, when Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Germany in the 15th century and merged with already ingrained pagan beliefs.
The legend of Osterhase (or the Easter Bunny) was first documented in the 1500s, and by 1680 the first story about a rabbit laying eggs in a garden was published. These fables were brought to the United States in the 1700s, when German immigrants settled in Dutch Pennsylvania.
According to Discovery.com, the tradition of making nests for the rabbit to lay its eggs soon followed. Those nests eventually became decorated baskets, and eggs eventually transitioned to candy, treats and other small gifts.
Christians and non-Christians alike look forward to Easter as a celebration of life and family, and the Easter Bunny, the ancient symbol of fertility, is the central figure.