My Sonshine asked and found out online and wanted to share:
|How did the Easter bunny become part of a religious holiday?|
Spring Valley, California
|We hopped around the Easter History category in the Yahoo! Directory, and then returned to the front page and searched on "easter bunny history" to dig up the dirt on this rascally rabbit. As it turns out, the Easter bunny has a long history as a pagan symbol that predates the Christian holiday. In fact, our sources suggest that early Christians purposefully co-opted the pagan hare to popularize their own holiday.Quite a few pagan cultures hold celebrations in the spring. It's the time of year when plants return to life after being dormant all winter and when animals mate and procreate. These festivities celebrate the renewal of life and promote the fertility of crops, animals, and even people, which was important in these agrarian communities. The Saxons believed in a maiden goddess of fertility named Eastre or Eostre (Oestre in Latin) and honored her with a spring festival. Hares and rabbits were considered sacred to Eastre because they are notoriously fertile animals.|
In the second century A.D., Christian missionaries tried to convert northern European tribes. To help make Christianity attractive, the missionaries turned pagan festivals into Christian holidays. The pagan Eastre festival occurred around the same time as the Christian celebration marking Christ's resurrection so the two celebrations blended into one, rabbit and all.
Over time, Eastre became Easter, and the symbolism changed as well. Instead of the Easter rabbit symbolizing fertility, the rabbit maysymbolize an innocent, vulnerable creature that can be sacrificed, similar to the lamb. To Christians, these innocents are tokens of Christ and the sacrifice he made.
The Easter bunny we know today was influenced by German traditions dating back to the 1500s. German children believed that theOschter Haws (a magical rabbit) would leave them a nest of colored eggs at Eastertime if they were good. Pennsylvania Dutch settlers brought this tradition to America in the 1700s.
On a related note, eggs have long been a symbol of rebirth and thus associated with spring celebrations. In the 600s, Pope Gregory the Great forbade the eating of eggs during Lent (the 40 days proceeding Easter), and this helped make eggs a special treat at Easter. Many European cultures also have old customs of decorating eggs and giving them as gifts.