Published February 2005

Most readers are fully aware of the significance of Easter.  They know it’s history, what should happen on each day, and the climax of the important event.  But did you ever wonder where the Easter Bunny fits into this religious scenario?  Not surprisingly, the Easter Bunny is one of the most beloved of the symbols of this season, and what youngster hasn’t slept lightly and waited impatiently for the magic morning when they could go seek colored eggs, and find their basket with its chocolate bunnies and gum drops hiding among green colored “grass.” 

For the curious, the first documented use of the bunny as a symbol of Easter appeared in Germany in the 1500’s, although bunnies and Easter are probably a much earlier folk tradition.  The Germans also made the first edible bunnies, this in the 1800’s, and the Pennsylvania Dutch apparently brought the kindly Easter Bunny to our country in the 1800’s.  We weren’t the first to be interested in rabbits.

Lots of Asian and Eurasian cultures revere the rabbit as a sacred messenger of the Divine, and the Chinese considered him (always HIM) as a creature of the moon pounding rice in a mortar. Egyptians thought of the hare as “Un”, which means to open, and the Celts revered hares as a symbol of fertility and new life.  Even in North America, rabbits were important as native Americans considered him a trickster who either plays the fool or brought benefits to the people.  And the ancient Mayans gave rabbits credit for inventing writing.

In fact, Easter is actually a lunar festival, rather than a solar event, with the celebration among ancient folk falling on the first Sunday after the full moon on or after the equinox.  And it seems to have been named for Eostre (East-ra), after the Saxon goddess of the dawn from which East and Easter got their names.  According to legend, Eostre became angry with the rabbit and cast it into the heavens, where it exists now as the constellation Lepus The Hare at the feet of Orion.

But how did colored eggs come about?  There’s an explanation for that, too.

Again, according to legend, Eostre gave Lepus the gift of laying eggs once a year, which, combined with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, is why we have the modern day tradition with the Easter Bunny delivering Easter eggs.  You won’t be surprised to hear that Bugs Bunny helped at least once, with disasterous results.

Would you like to actually see a mythological rabbit?  Pick a clear night with a full moon, use binoculars, and you will see the Jade Rabbit pounding out medicine for the Lady Ch’ange.  The dark areas to the top of the full moon can be seen as the figure of a rabbit (look close and use imagination).  The animals ears point to the upper right, while at the left are two large circular areas representing its head and body.  Look really close and you might even see an egg or two!

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