Ever wonder why you sat on a giant rabbit’s lap at the mall around Easter? You didn’t? Hmm…well doesn’t it seem awfully strange?
Everybody has that moment when they realize they don’t know about something that they should probably know about. Whether it’s history, language, science, or cultural phenomena, you’ve felt the stinging personal embarrassment of a moment wherein you realize there’s some common knowledge that isn’t so common. Don’t feel bad; nobody knows everything. Nobody, that is, except me and my sidekick, The Internet!
Somewhere in the world, a confused soul begs the question…
Why is a Bunny Associated with Easter?
Easter is a Christian holiday meant to honor the moment when Jesus Christ briefly came back from the dead, so the story goes. Fair enough — if that sort of thing actually did happen, it seems deserving of its own holiday. But what does any of that have to do with the myth of a giant anthropomorphic rabbit that repurposes the Santa Claus model of gift distribution to kids all around the world?
The rabbit has been regarded as a striking symbol of fertility for a long time because they tend to reproduce at an astounding rate (though it’s not all that common anymore, the phrase “multiplying like rabbits” was once a clever way to describe a family who frequently welcomed in a new baby). Also, they’re pretty adorable.
Prior to the rise of Christianity, northern European pagans celebrated the arrival of the spring season with several festivals (and if you’ve ever experienced even a moment of a northern Europe winter, you know why warmer weather was such a big deal). Because spring universally represents the rebirth and renewal of life, the primary figure to receive the pagans’ praise and respect was the Goddess of Fertility, Eostre (and if that word sounds familiar… it’s because it sounds exactly like “Easter”). And Eostre’s sidekick? Yep, it was a rabbit.
As with all ancient religious figures, many legends surrounded Eostre and her well-revered consort. One maintains that Eostre gave the rabbit the ability to lay eggs once a year, to further drive home the “fertility” theme of which they were both so fond. Another story says that the constellation we now know as Lepus (“lepus” being Latin for “rabbit”) was the result of Eostre casting her rabbit into heaven.
Anyway, even though the most prominent spring holiday no longer has anything to do with a fertility goddess, part of the original tradition seems to remain in the form of a rabbit who strolls around with a basket full of colorful eggs.