Many major holidays have some form of spokescritter: Christmas has Santa Claus; St. Patrick’s Day makes with the leprechauns; Thanksgiving brings us ill-fated turkeys; and Halloween, of course, has a whole slew of characters and imagery. But Easter, man. Easter is where it gets a little weird.
Here’s a prevailing theory. Like many modern holidays rooted in religious observances, Easter is a bit of a mashup. Christian missionaries famously greased the slide into conversion by rebranding existing celebrations into Christian ones.
For the pagan religions, the Eostre festival was a big one, a celebration of the end of winter and the life and fertility that comes with spring. Lucky for the missionaries, the festival coincided with their resurrection story, so the two observations were easily merged.
Eostre was the pagan goddess of dawn, spring and fertility, and often associated with the hare and the egg — for obvious reasons, also fertility symbols. Those symbols survived through the centuries; at some point they were combined into a single critter, becoming an egg-laying rabbit. From 17th Century Germany comes mention of “Oschter Haws,” a rabbit that laid brightly colored eggs for good children.
When the Germans emigrated to the New World, they brought the critter with them. “Oschter Haws” got Americanized to “Easter Bunny,” and somewhere along the line someone had the bright idea to make the eggs out of chocolate.
The symbolic nature of rabbits and eggs lends itself to wild creativity in creating Easter-themed artwork and advertising. Those of us of a certain age, for example, might vividly remember the Cadbury rabbit.
Or, “Thanks Easter Bunny! Buk-bauwk!”
Print ads with rabbits for Easter go back a long way, as you can see from these ads that range from the beginning of last century to right around the middle.
Honestly, the whole concept of an anthropomorphic rabbit, often depicted as male, that lays chocolate eggs and gives them away for children to eat: downright bizarre, if you stop to think about it. Which we now sort of regret doing, actually.
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