WHERE DID THE EASTER BUNNY COME FROM?
Spring is a season of rebirth and renewal. Following a period of fire and ash, the once-charred mountains of Ventura, California have been replenished by the winter rains and are now blanketed in bright-green swaths of grass, honeysuckle, and other budding flowers. Walking along a path that separates the hillsides from the sea, I can make out repeated streaks of blurring fur in the distance. As I get closer to the action, it becomes nearly impossible to walk without tripping over the rabbits who are zipping across the pathway, seeking shelter in a nearby meadow.
Rabbits are associated with Spring because of the abundance of baby bunnies hopping through the fields in springtime. It s common, during this time to find chocolate renditions of these cute, furry creatures lining the shelves of your local grocery store.
While narrowly avoiding collision with a group of speedy little rabbits, I began to wonder why bunnies have become such a prominent symbol of the Easter holiday. Christian texts make no mention of a preternatural egg-laying rabbit who hides eggs and delivers baskets full of candy-coated chocolates and toys. How then, did such a mythical figure become synonymous with a religious and cultural holiday?
The origins of the Easter Bunny can be connected to the celebration of the spring equinox and the season of fertility. Before the advent of Christianity, Pagans celebrated spring festivals with the theme of new life and relief from cold winter. In Germany, rabbits— who have traditionally been associated with fertility due to their prolific procreation abilities— were celebrated during springtime as children prepared nests for Osterhase or Oschter Haws, an egg-laying bunny who would deliver eggs to their homes.
Multiplying like Rabbits
With a gestation period of only 31 days, rabbits can have multiple litters each year— giving birth to up to nine babies at a time!! In the wild, they’re born in a shallow hole that has been lined with collected grass and their momma bunny’s fur. To avoid drawing attention from predators, mother rabbits spend just a few moments each day with their newborns. From birth to four months old, the rabbits grow quickly— doubling in size— and continue to live with their mothers and siblings.
Coming to America
The Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition overseas. Around the world, different countries associate Easter with a number of animals like the cuckoo bird (Switzerland) or the Osterfuchs (the Easter Fox, Germanic tradition).
As the meadows blossom with an abundance of life, families give into what has been called the “Easter bunny temptation” and surprise their children with a floppy-eared family addition. Pet stores around the country typically see an increase in the purchase of rabbits shortly before the Easter holiday. Simultaneously, animal shelters are prepping for the influx of rabbits that has become synonymous with the weeks and months following the holiday. Accustomed to running through acres of wild landscape, pet rabbits require an attention and care which some human families are not prepared to offer. Once families realize how much work goes into raising a bunny, many surrender them to animal shelters or release them outdoors, where they become victim to harsh environments, starvation, or predators.
Bunnies can live 10 years or more, so when planning to adopt one, make sure you’re ready for some serious responsibility. Before finding a furry companion, research the type of care that bunnies need and visit your local shelter or rabbit rescue group to help save the bunnies who have been abandoned by others.
If you’re not ready to adopt a rabbit, take a springtime walk outside and stay alert. If you’re lucky, you will be able to appreciate some of the speedy rabbits making their way across your path. As always, remember to get outside and explore our world.