The origins of the Easter Rabbit and of Easter Eggs

The origins of the Easter Rabbit
and of Easter Eggs

It is fun to wonder about how certain Christian customs originate. Notable is the paradox in our Easter tradition that seems to support the fact that Rabbits Lay Eggs! How strange is that! Obviously someone must have missed hearing some practical “facts of life.”

The word “Easter” derives from the name of a Teutonic goddess of dawn, spring and fertility — Eastre. (Our word, “east” is also related to this deity’s name.)

In pre-Christian England, Eastre’s festival was held on the Vernal Equinox (the first day of Spring), about the same time as Christianity celebrated the Festival of Christ’s Resurrection. The newly converted English Christians took over the old pagan festival, celebrated it as the Festival of Christ’s Resurrection, and by attaching their old pagan goddess’s name to it, probably held on to a nostalgic tradition which made the transition easier. Ultimately the “Feast of Eastre” became the “Feast of Easter.”

But how did an “Egg-Laying Easter Bunny” come about?
There was a legend about Eastre, well known to the ancient English, that once she came upon an injured bird. For some reason, the only way she could save the bird was to turn it into a four-footed creature known for its prolific fertility — the hare. The little bird survived in its new shape as a hare, but kept its ability to build nests and lay eggs. It was a very small jump indeed (no pun intended!) to convert this hare into today’s beloved “Easter Bunny,” able to lay eggs in a very “non-bunny” fashion!

The symbolic meaning of eggs
Eggs themselves have long represented fertility and consequently "rebirth." It was natural, because of this emphasis on "rebirth," that eggs became associated with Easter, the Festival of Our Lord’s Resurrection.But when and where the egg first received this connotation of "rebirth" is so ancient that historians have no idea when it first began. It is of interest that the Ancient Persians, Hindus and Egyptians even believed that the world itself began as a single egg.

The coloring of eggs
The mythology of Eastre relates that the bird — become rabbit — was so grateful to the goddess for saving it's life, that it would decorate eggs that had been laid and gave them Eastre as gifts. In medieval times, Easter eggs were painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and traditionally given at Easter to the servants. In Germany eggs were presents given to children along with other Easter gifts.

Different cultures have developed their own ways of decorating Easter eggs. Crimson eggs, to honor the blood of Christ, are exchanged in Greece. In parts of Germany and Austria green eggs are used on Maundy Thursday. The Slavic people decorate their eggs in special patterns of gold and silver. Austrian artists design patterns by fastening ferns and tiny plants around the eggs, which are then boiled. The plants are removed revealing a striking white pattern.

A number of eggs are made in the distinctive manner called Pysanki (which means: to design or, to write). Melted beeswax is applied to the fresh white egg which is then dipped in successive baths of dye. After each dip, wax is painted over the area where the preceding color is to remain. Eventually a complex pattern of lines and colors emerges into a work of art.

In Germany and other countries, eggs used for cooking were not broken, the contents removed by piercing the end of each egg with a needle and blowing the contents into a bowl. The hollow eggs were dyed and hung from shrubs and trees during Easter Week. Armenians decorate these hollow eggs with pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other religious designs.

Other Easter Traditions and Folklore
(compiled from different Internet Sources by the Home and Famiily Team at Prince of Peace Church including and

1) The First Easter Egg: According to tradition, Saint Mary Magdalene, who had patrician rank, gained an audience in Rome with the emperor after the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. She denounced Pilate for his handling of Jesus' trial and then began to talk with Casesar about Jesus' resurrection. She picked up a hen's egg from the dinner table to illustrate her point about resurrection. Caesar was unmoved and replied that there was as much chance of a human being returning to life as there was for the egg to turn red. Immediately, the egg miraculously turned red in her hand! It is because of this tradition that Orthodox Christians exchange red eggs at Easter.

2) Other Christian Traditions:

a) Eastern Christian legends blended folklore and Christian beliefs and firmly attached the egg to the Easter celebration. A Polish legend tells of when Mary Magdalene went to the sepulchre to anoint the body of Jesus. She had with her a basket of eggs to serve as a repast. When she arrived at the sepulchre and uncovered the eggs, lo, the pure white shells had miraculously taken on a rainbow of colors.

b) One legend concerns the Virgin Mary. It tells of the time the Blessed Virgin gave eggs to the soldiers at the cross. She entreated them to be less cruel and she wept. Her tears fell upon the eggs, spotting them with dots of brilliant color.

c) Decorating and coloring eggs for Easter was the custom in England during the Middle Ages. The household accounts of Edward I, for the year 1290, recorded an expenditure of eighteen pence for four hundred and fifty eggs to be gold-leafed and colored for Easter gifts.

d) Egg-specking is a sport all over Europe. Eggs are rolled against each other on the lawn or down a hill. The egg that remains uncracked is the winner. In Washington, DC there is an annual celebration of egg rolling on the White House lawn on Easter Monday.

3) The "Easter Bunny" is not the only animal implicated in "Easter Treats Delivery" in European Countries

Swiss children believe a cuckoo brings the eggs; Czech children wait for a lark. German children have a lot of options - hoping that a rooster, a stork, a bunny, or a fox will bring their treats.

4) Easter "Sweets"

Although rabbits have long been a symbol of spring, chocolate bunnies are a relatively new phenomenon. Easter bunnies made of pastry and sugar first became popular in southern Germany at the beginning of the 1800's.

"The Whole Earth Holiday Book" connects the rabbit and colored eggs with the story of a poor woman who could afford no sweets for her children on Easter. She colored some eggs and hid them in a nest for her children to find. During the hunt, the children spotted a large hare in the bushes. They told their friends that bunny had left the eggs, and so the Easter Bunny Story was given momentum!

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