If, like me, you grew up with images of a bunny who hops around and delivers eggs to children every Easter, it seems perfectly normal. But when you stop to think about it, what does a rabbit really have to do with eggs?
Well, in the old tradition, the rabbit actually laid the eggs. But many people had a hard time understanding how that happened, so they began telling their children that the rabbit only delivered the eggs.
Stories about rabbits that laid eggs at Easter time date back at least to the 1600s in Germany. Well, actually, they were egg-laying hares – the rabbits’ larger, longer-eared cousins. The origins of this strange story are unknown, but we do know that the Pennsylvania Dutch carried the Easter Hare tradition from Germany to America with them. In Pennsylvania, where there were more rabbits than hares, the Easter Hare became the Easter Rabbit. Then, in the 20th century, the term Easter Bunny gained popularity.
Rabbits and Goddesses
In 1874, when the mythologist Adolf Holtzmann was trying to find the origins of the old Easter Hare story. He wrote that the hare was probably the sacred animal of the goddess Ostara.
Ostara was a German goddess of Springtime. She was described – and possibly invented – by Jacob Grimm (folklorist and one of the Grimm Brothers of fairy tale fame). In his 1835 book of German Mythology, he speculated that Ostara might have been the German version of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Springtime called Eostre from whom we get the name Easter.
From Bird to Rabbit
After Holtzmann hypothesized about an Ostara – Easter Rabbit connection, storytellers began making up tales about them. They tried to explain the relationship between the goddess, the rabbit, and Easter eggs. There are several versions of this story, and this is mine…
The goddess Ostara’s job was to warm the earth and bring it back to life after a long, cold winter season. Her favorite animal was the hare (or rabbit) and she sometimes traveled in a carriage pulled by several of them.
Ostara slept underground all winter, and one Springtime, when it was time for her to warm things up, she just didn’t feel like climbing out of bed. She snuggled up and went back to sleep. When she finally awoke and made her way up to the surface of the earth, she was two months late. Ostara was embarrassed when she saw the earth still cold and covered in snow.
She quickly got into her carriage and her rabbits pulled her across the land. As she passed, the snow melted and flowers sprang up. Trees and shrubs began to turn green and bloom. She was a tender-hearted goddess, so she pulled her carriage to a halt when she saw a little injured bird. He was lying on the ground and his wings had been frozen and broken.
Ostara felt guilty for being late and causing the poor little bird to suffer. So she cupped him in her hands, warmed him up, and turned him into a rabbit with lots of fur so he would always be warm.
The rabbit, however, retained one of its bird traits. It was still able to lay eggs. The rabbit was so grateful to the goddess for saving him that every year he laid colorful eggs for her spring festival of Easter… And that’s why the Easter Bunny can lay eggs.
There are other versions of this story, but they all seem to agree that the Easter Bunny is able to lay eggs because he was once a bird.
I guess in the area of myth and fable anything is possible.
But not every country is visited by the Easter Bunny: In Australia, where the rabbit is considered a pest, the cute, little Bilby is taking over egg-delivery duties. And in France, Easter eggs are delivered by church bells – Yes, church bells! To read how that works, click here.
Image Sources: Image 1, — Image 2, — Image 3, — Image 4, — Image 5, — Image 6, — Image 7
You Might Also Like:
- American Easter Bunny vs French Easter Bell
- Fabergé Easter Eggs Were Tokens of Love
- Tooth Fairy vs Little Tooth Mouse
Follow Me – If you would like to keep up with my articles, you can receive an email every time I post (every other week or so). Just enter your email below and click the Follow the Curious Rambler button.
- Beatrix Potter: Mushrooms, Bunnies, and Sheep - 1 March 2023
- Lovelorn Seek Help from Juliet and Beatrice - 12 February 2023
- Wassailing: Blessing the Apple Trees - 1 February 2023
“Fan”tastic! Thanks from “your” fan in Chicagoland. Happy Easter, Margo! 🙂
Thanks, Bill. It’s nice to have a fan. 🙂
Happy Easter to you too! Hope the Easter Bunny brings you some goodies.
If bunnies can lay eggs, I guess that the French tradition of flying bells isn’t that far fetched!
I know, they are both pretty strange stories, but in folk tales and legends anything can happen… 🙂
Loved the legend! But it didn’t explain how the bird, turned into a male bunny is able to lay eggs! Truly a magical rabbit.
Yes, we must believe in magic! 🙂
I thought Easter comes from goddess Istar ?
I know the Ishtar story does appear around the internet, but it might not be true.
According to Stephen Winick who is writer and editor at the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center the idea of Easter being named for Ishtar has never been accepted by scholars. You can read what he says about the Easter bunny and goddesses here: https://blogs.loc.gov/folklife/2016/03/easter-bunny/?loclr=blogflt.
Thanks so much for commenting, and Happy Easter!
So interesting, as always, Margo. When I was a child, my Easter was much the same as yours – we decorated hard boiled eggs which were hidden in the garden by the Easter Bunny who left us Chocolate ones. However, as you say, the Bunny has become a Bilby in Australia because the Rabbit, which was brought to Australia by early settlers, multiplied so enormously it became a pest to agriculture and small native grass eaters. So, for the last 100 years we have tried to eradicate it – hence the change to a Bilby. Best wishes, Paula
Happy Easter, Paula!
I hope the Easter Bilby brings you lots of treats – mainly chocolate ones!
The little bilby looks cute. I think I read that he was endangered and that making him the Easter mascot helps in raising awareness for his survival. It’s a nice idea.
All the best,
Happy Easter to you and your husband too Margo! With lots of lovely Chocolate! There was an item on the ABC (Australian ABC) news tonight about the Bilby. As you read, it is nearly extinct. In order to try and stop this happening, an environment organisation (Government/University) has just finished a long fence in northern NSW to keep out rabbits, foxes (another introduced pest) and feral cats and they are going to carefully re-introduce the small native marsupials like the Bilby and some varieties of Bandicoot. Hopefully the small native species will survive with the help of the fence. Paula
I hope it works. It sounds like you have such a variety of interesting animals in Australia. I’d love to come and see the country one day – if only it were a bit closer. I’m not fond of long flights… 🙂
My dad said it makes sense, because Germans are weird🤣 (no offense to Germans)