This year, as you casually bite off the ears (or other extremity) of a chocolate bunny, have you ever asked yourself as to why a rabbit (or hare) is part of the Easter celebrations?
If you want to go down the most obvious path the Easter bunny has its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore. The Hare and the Rabbit were the most fertile animals known and served as symbols of the new life during the Spring season.
The German settlers, who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s, were the ones who introduced the Easter bunny to American folklore. The arrival of the ‘Oschter Haws’ was considered ‘childhood's greatest pleasure’, (after Santa Claus of course). The children believed that if they were good the ‘Oschter Haws’, would lay a nest of coloured eggs and built their ‘nest’, using a cap/bonnet, which has led to the later tradition of the more elaborate Easter basket. In those days Easter bunnies were made of pastry and sugar and not of chocolate.
But according to some, Easter is not really a solar festival but rather one of the moon, the measurer of our days. Many eastern artists have depicted the moon with rabbits racing across its face. In one such story Buddha places Rabbit in the moon as payment for a favour in which Rabbit voluntarily gave himself as food for one of Buddha's hungry friends. An honorary position, for the full moon is seen as the destroyer of darkness or ‘sign of new life and messenger of immortality’ (Hillard).
A more important connection can be found exclusively within the hare, which unlike the rabbit is born with his eyes open. The Egyptians called the hare Un, which meant ‘open, to open, the opener’. Un also meant period. Thus the rabbit became a symbol for periodicity in both the lunar and human sense of the word. The hare as ‘opener’ symbolized the New Year at Easter, fertility and the beginning of new life within the young.
First published in the Connections magazine #15 Spring 2007