The History of the Easter Bunny

By Jessica Wolstenholm

As part of our continuing Easter blog series, we wanted to address some of the historical – and religious – roots of some of our modern Easter celebrations. Today we’ll look at the history of the Easter bunny.

History of the Easter Bunny

For thousands of years, many cultures believed that rabbits possessed mystical powers. These cultures built statues of fertility gods and goddesses with rabbit heads. Some scholars speculate that the link between rabbits and fertility is due to their ability to reproduce often and in great number.[1]

As an example of the rabbit’s presence in ancient lore, there is an especially relevant legend about the goddess Oestre. Oestre played an important part in spring celebrations, and many European tribes believed that she “drove winter away and reawakened the world for its annual rebirth in spring.” One legend told of a bird who looked into Oestre’s face and was overcome with the beauty of her rabbit-like features. Discerning the special nature of the rabbit, the bird asked the goddess to transform him into a rabbit. Following the transformation, the bird forgot everything about its former life except how to lay eggs. The bird’s eggs were then gathered by Oestre and presented to the world’s best children.[2]

It is possible that, due to stories such as this one, the rabbit came to be associated with Easter. In addition to the influence of these ancient legends, the Easter bunny may have another source. In the Middle Ages children engaged in Easter egg hunts, sometimes stirring the bunnies hiding in the bushes around them. Because the eggs were often discovered in the same location from which the bunnies fled, children associated the rabbits with the eggs, even imagining that the rabbits had been lying on top of their colorful treasures.[3]

It was not until the 1800’s that the Easter bunny began to appear in stories. Numerous German books connected the animal to the holiday, and German candy makers produced a variety of edible bunnies. Eventually, the Easter bunny made its way to the United States, and Americans began to include the bunny in their festivities in the mid to late 1800’s.[4]


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[1] Collins, p. 170
[2] Ibid. p. 170-171
[3] Collins, p. 171
[4] Ibid. p. 171