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The history of the Easter Bunny

Easter is supposed to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, but when some people hear ‘Easter’ they think of the Easter Bunny and eggs. Since ancient times rabbits have been associated with spring.

It is believed that Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring, Eostre, had a hare as her companion. The hare symbolizes fertility and rebirth. Later Christians changed the symbol of the hare to the Easter Bunny.

In an attempt to Christianize Easter, which began as a pagan holiday, the celebration was named for a Saxon goddess who was known by the names of Oestre or Eastre, and in Germany by the name of Ostara. She is a goddess of the dawn and the spring, and her name derives from words for dawn, the shining light arising from the east. Our words for the “female hormone” estrogen derives from her name.

Ostara was a fertility goddess. Bringing in the end of winter, with the days brighter and growing longer after the vernal equinox, Ostara had a passion for new life. Her presence was felt in the flowering of plants and the birth of babies, both animal and human. The rabbit (well known for its propensity for rapid reproduction) was her sacred animal.

Easter eggs and the Easter Bunny both were featured in the spring festivals of Ostara, which were initially held during the feasts of the goddess Ishtar (or Inanna). Eggs are obvious symbols of fertility, and the newborn chicks an adorable representation of new growth. Brightly colored eggs, chicks, and bunnies were all used at festival time to express appreciation for Ostara’s gift of abundance.

According to the egg is an ancient symbol of new life and has been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring.

From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection.

The decoration of eggs is believed to date back to at least the 13th century, while the rite of the Easter parade has even older roots. Other traditions, such as the consumption of Easter candy, are among the modern additions to the celebration of this early springtime holiday.

One explanation for this custom is that eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the Lenten season, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting and then eat them on Easter as a celebration.

The tradition of decorated eggs dates back to the early 13th century, but are most recognized today for Easter egg hunts.

The tradition of decorated eggs dates back to the early 13th century, but are most recognized today for Easter egg hunts.

Easter egg hunts and egg rolling are two popular egg-related traditions. In the U.S. the White House Easter Egg Roll, a race in which children push decorated, hard-boiled eggs across the White House lawn, is an annual event held the Monday after Easter.

The first official White House egg roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. The event has no religious significance, although some people have considered egg rolling symbolic of the stone blocking Jesus’ tomb being rolled away, leading to his resurrection.

The tradition is that the Easter Bunny leaves Easter eggs on Easter Sunday.

The idea of an egg-giving rabbit was taken to America in the 1700s by German immigrants. They told their children to make nests with their caps and bonnets, and if they were good the Easter Bunny would leave them colored eggs.

Modern interpretations of the Easter Bunny vary by region. In America, the story of Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail has given a name and personality to the iconic figure. Germany’s version of the Easter Bunny was influenced by folklorist Jakob Grimm’s stories on traditional Easter rituals.

In Australia an abundance of rabbits became a nuisance. The endangered bilby, however, looks similar to a bunny, and has become a new symbol of the season. You can find Easter Bilby candy, cards, and decorations if you visit Australia during their Easter celebration.

Next to Halloween, another pagan holiday, Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday of the year. Some of the popular sweet treats are chocolate eggs and jelly beans, which are also egg shaped, but are believed to reportedly date back to Turkish Delight, a biblical-era concoction.

According to the National Confectioners Association, more than 16 billion jelly beans are made in the U.S. each year for Easter, enough to fill a giant egg measuring 89 feet high and 60 feet wide. Other popular candies include, Peeps, marshmallow bunnies, chocolate bunnies and more.

Most everyone grew up associating Easter with a bunny who brings candy and eggs, so no one questions how this legend came to be. When you actually think about it, though, it’s an odd tradition.

Rabbits don’t, after all, lay eggs, or deliver gifts. The Easter Bunny is nonetheless a cherished holiday figure for children all around the world.

Interesting facts about Easter traditions

• Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday in America, after Halloween. Among the most popular sweet treats associated with this day are chocolate eggs, which date back to early 19th century Europe. Eggs have long been associated with Easter as a symbol of new life and Jesus’ resurrection.

• Another egg-shaped candy, the jelly bean, became associated with Easter in the 1930s (although the jelly bean’s origins reportedly date all the way back to a Biblical-era concoction called a Turkish Delight).

• According to the National Confectioners Association, over 16 billion jelly beans are made in the U.S. each year for Easter, enough to fill a giant egg measuring 89 feet high and 60 feet wide.

• For the past decade, the top-selling non-chocolate Easter candy has been the marshmallow Peep, a sugary, pastel-colored confection. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based candy manufacturer Just Born (founded by Russian immigrant Sam Born in 1923) began selling Peeps in the 1950s. The original Peeps were handmade, marshmallow-flavored yellow chicks, but other shapes and flavors were later introduced, including chocolate mousse bunnies.

• The largest Easter egg ever made was over 25 feet high and weighed over 8,000 pounds. It was built out of chocolate and marshmallow and supported by an internal steel frame.

• In New York City, the Easter Parade tradition dates back to the mid-1800s, when the upper crust of society would attend Easter services at various Fifth Avenue churches then stroll outside afterward, showing off their new spring outfits and hats. Average citizens started showing up along Fifth Avenue to check out the action. The tradition reached its peak by the mid-20th century, and in 1948, the popular film Easter Parade was released, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland and featuring the music of Irving Berlin. The title song includes the lyrics: “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it/You’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.”

• The Easter Parade tradition lives on in Manhattan, with Fifth Avenue from 49th Street to 57th Street being shut down during the day to traffic. Participants often sport elaborately decorated bonnets and hats. The event has no religious significance, but sources note that Easter processions have been a part of Christianity since its earliest days. Today, other cities across America also have their own parades.

• Many families consider the Easter Bunny as a sort of springtime Santa Claus. The religious connection between the two holidays is obvious: Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ and Easter celebrates his resurrection.

• Both figures reward children with candy and treats for good behavior. These characters also share a unique distinction: snacks are left out for them the night before. Santa tends to receive milk and cookies, while the Easter Bunny gets carrots. We even present gifts in the same way for each holiday; Christmas stockings and Easter baskets are usually filled with similar items.

The Easter Bunny has been around for centuries and has become a popular figure for children of all ages.

The Easter Bunny has been around for centuries and has become a popular figure for children of all ages.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or

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