In pagan times, the "Easter hare"
was no ordinary animal, but a sacred companion of the old goddess of spring,
Eostre. The Easter bunny has its origin in
pre-Christian fertility lore. The Hare and the Rabbit were the most
fertile animals known and they served as symbols of the new life during
the Spring season. Since long before Jesus Christ was born, parents told their children
that the magic hare would bring them presents at the spring festival. The
presents were often painted eggs, as these represented the new life starting at
this time of year." Hares are animals which look like rabbits, but are
larger and in many countries quite rare. In most places, the Easter rabbit
(bunny) has replaced the Easter hare completely.
The bunny was first used as a
symbol of Easter in 16th century Germany, where it was first mentioned in German
writings. The first edible Easter bunnies, made primarily of pastry and sugar,
were produced in Germany as well, during the early 1800s. Also in Germany,
children made nests of grass and placed them in their yards. They believed the
Easter Bunny would fill these baskets with brightly decorated eggs during the
Easter bunny was introduced to American folklore by the German settlers
who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s. The
arrival of the "Oschter Haws" was considered
"childhood's greatest pleasure" next to a visit from Christ-Kindel
on Christmas Eve. The children believed that if they were good the "Oschter
Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs.
the custom of making nests also spread to America. Children would build their nest in a secluded place in the home, the
barn or the garden. Boys would use their caps and girls their bonnets to
make the nests . The use of elaborate Easter baskets would come later as
the tradition of the Easter bunny spread through out the country.