Ever wondered why Easter is associated with bunnies?
It’s thought that the hunt for eggs came first, with no association to the rabbit at all!
As excited children eagerly searched for the eggs, they flushed out rabbits and thus began the stories of the rabbits leaving the eggs behind.
Eggs were also traditionally given out at the start of spring in Egypt and Persia.
Historically – rabbits, hares, and eggs in folklore have their basis as pagan fertility symbols, signifying spring and new life, and the worship of the Goddess Eostre or Eastre (usually shown with the rabbit as her symbolic animal like below)
To entertain a child, the goddess turned her favourite bird into a hare, which immediately laid colourful eggs.
When the Christians moved into the pagan’s territories, they decided that the custom of colouring eggs was not harmful and adapted it to their own festivities.
Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following a full moon, so the moon was used to figure out the date of Easter every year, and the hare (not the rabbit) was the symbol of the Egyptian moon.
The hare was always been portrayed with its eyes open, watching the moon. In fact, the Egyptian word for hare is “un” which means open. Hares are born with their eyes open; rabbits are born with them closed.
When German settlers arrived in America, they brought with them the legend of “Oschter Haws”, the white Easter Hare.
Children behaved themselves, believing that, if they were good, Oschter Haws would lay colourful eggs (symbols of rebirth) for them in a nest the children had provided (usually their hat or bonnet, placed in the barn).
By the 19th Century, the Easter Hare became the Easter Rabbit. American families would later adopt the nest tradition – using baskets, chocolate, and money. And like many traditions stateside, they made their way across ‘The Pond’ to us!
The number of pet rabbits in the UK is on the up, especially fully litter-trained house rabbits. If you are thinking of buying a real-life Easter bunny, be prepared for years of looking after it.
They really do make excellent pets, but should never be obtained as the classic children’s pet – rabbits are very delicate creatures and therefore require lots of care and looking after, as well as regular boosters against common viral diseases, such as myxomatosis.
The months following Easter are sadly filled with neglected rabbits, rabbits returned to pet shops, or even sent to rescue centres with little hope of adoption.
So if you’re thinking about getting a rabbit, please think carefully, and seek out a rescue one first.
For more information about how to look after pet rabbits visit the Rabbit Welfare Association’s website here.
Oh, and have a Happy Easter!