Easter bunny thumbnail
How did an egg-laying bunny come to be associated with the resurrection of Jesus?

If you’re one of the millions of people who will be taking their children to an Easter egg hunt, eating giant chocolate bunnies, or painting eggs in bright pastels, you might be surprised to learn about the origins of these innocent traditions. 

Humans have been celebrating Easter for thousands of years, but the truth is that the history of this holiday is replete with swords, fire, and strange women coming out of rocks and casting spells on forest animals. 

So how did the holiday come to be represented by a cute bunny?

To understand the story of the Easter bunny, we must also understand the history of Easter itself. 

Some of these details may surprise you. For example, did you know that the Easter bunny is a hermaphrodite with German roots? Or that many Easter traditions are actually repackaged pagan rituals?

The Easter Bunny is German

Our story begins with Eostre, a Germanic goddess worshipped by pagans in pre-Christian Europe. Eostre was known as "the Goddess of the Dawn," and ancient believers would hold a big festival around the time of the Spring Equinox each year in her honor. 

According to scholars, these festivals were marked by feasts, giant bonfires, and sword dances in celebration of renewed life and light.

This welcoming of spring would slowly be transformed into a Christian holiday over time (more on that below, but there's a clue in the name here: "Easter" is widely understood to be derived directly from "Eostre").

So wait, where did the eggs come from? A modern spin by Big Chocolate™ to boost sales?

Scholars believe that Easter eggs can be traced all the way back to the goddess herself. 

A popular legend tells the story of Eostre entertaining a group of children. As part of the demonstration, she transformed her pet bird into a pet rabbit. The catch? To the astonishment of the audience, this rabbit could still lay eggs like a bird.

And thus, rabbits and eggs become inexorably tied to the Easter tradition.

The story evolved over hundreds of years, eventually morphing into the legend of the ‘Osterhase’ – an egg-laying hare who produced eggs and hid them around homes and gardens for children to find on Easter morning.

Hopping Across the Pond

How did this legend make its leap across the Atlantic? Immigration, of course. 

According to historians, 18th-century German immigrants bound for Pennsylvania brought the 'Osterhase' tradition with them. It soon spread across the country, even as it continued to evolve. 

The Easter hare became an Easter bunny, and the real eggs were eventually replaced with molded chocolate eggs, first popularized by Cadbury in the late 19th century.

Quick sidenote: if you thought chocolate eggs couldn't be a controversial subject – well, think again

A Virgin Mary painting with a rabbit
The Madonna of the Rabbit, an oil painting by Titian (1596).

Historically Hermaphroditic

Here's where things get a bit strange. Rabbits have a long history as symbols of fertility, but one reason for this often flies under the radar: ancient scholars believed that hares were hermaphrodites.

Because of their rapid reproductive cycles, tiny reproductive anatomy, and extreme fertility, the experts of the day theorized that hares had both sets of reproductive organs and could impregnate themselves. Some even believed that hares could reproduce asexually.

That (incorrect) belief led to an association with the Virgin Mary – that’s why in Middle Age art, the Virgin Mary is often depicted with rabbits or hares.

Come to think of it, there are some interesting parallels between how Mary and the Goddess Eostre were depicted in artistic works. 

So that's how we got an Easter bunny. But how did this pagan holiday become a Christian one?

Easter, a Pagan Celebration

In 596 A.D., Pope Gregory sent a mission across the channel to convert pagan Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles to Christianity.

But knowing that the pagans were unlikely to simply drop their beliefs and embrace Jesus overnight, he instead gave a blueprint for conversion through coercion.

Pope Gregory instructed his missionaries to embrace, rather than reject, local pagan customs in order to make Christianity more palatable for the potential converts.

Over time, Christian symbols and messages were worked into these long-standing traditions. It was akin to a long-con, an inside job. Christianity became ubiquitous, and knowingly or not, the pagans slowly became Christians.

Thus, what began as a celebration of a Germanic goddess with an egg-laying rabbit transformed into the holiday we know as Easter today.

37 comments

  1. Kevin Joseph Kervick's Avatar Kevin Joseph Kervick

    In our church we respect both traditions.

    1. Bryant Keith Montgomery's Avatar Bryant Keith Montgomery

      So your saying the Church is a little pregnant. Can't have it both ways!

  1. arawngraalrd's Avatar arawngraalrd

    My Very Questionable Recollection is, in the 30th Century, Ishtar held a theology competition, in which her Bonni presented a Lagomorphic God, of Leaps and Tunnels, and finally laid an egg for, to God, all things are possible. Tragically, this all happened after my bed-time.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    I'll take a chocolate bunny anyday, over Jesus and his Easter eggs, that he probably laid, himself.

  1. Rev. Chico's Avatar Rev. Chico

    Chocolate bunnies

  1. Alisa Kay Gill's Avatar Alisa Kay Gill

    First let me say that I respect every religion. But it does seem like through most of history Christians were willing to transform their beliefs in order to convince others to "join" their way of thinking. I feel that if you truly believe in your God, Goddess, or whatever you believe, you shouldn't have to or want to change anything. You should just believe. I mean, isn't that the whole premise of "Belief"?

  1. Clifford's Avatar Clifford

    Absolutely correct.. As are most of our holidays, including Christmas. Which descended from Yule.

  1. Dr. Jerry Moyes's Avatar Dr. Jerry Moyes

    Yes, this is true. Early Christians merged existing holidays with celebrations of thier faith as part of a campaign to convert people. We need to return to celebrating our holidays as they were intended.

  1. William Melvin Ferrell's Avatar William Melvin Ferrell

    The Bible only as the rule and guide.

  1. Daniel J. Trebas's Avatar Daniel J. Trebas

    Okay. Well at least 2 Easter bunnys had to have been on Noah's ark or they would have died out way back then. Soooo...if the bunnys are good enough for Noah then they're good enough for me. Still I question why there aren't any chocolate Jesus's for Easter. Then "the body of Christ" would be much tastier than those dried up little wafers they usually use.😁🐰😳

  1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

    YOUR TELEPHONE, T V, INTERNET, EVERYTHING BUTT YOUR MIND, BRAIN, INTEL TELS YOU and YOU FAMILY WHAT and WHEN to BUY, BUY, BUY, YOU WOULD REALLY BE MORE BETTERER OFF USING the PHONE on the TREE in the PARK PLACE YOUR ORDERs, G O O D L U C K !

    1. Russell Taylor's Avatar Russell Taylor

      Exactly!

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    Here comes Peter Cotton tail, hopping down that bunny trail...

  1. John Casillo's Avatar John Casillo

    HMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.......let's see.......the son of God allows himself to be killed... so that you and all children can enjoy the bunny and chocolate eggs in the hot sun,....spring being sprung on renewal?....early church services and sunrises...why not?...........Rev John

    1. Patricia Hill's Avatar Patricia Hill

      The Son of God allowed himself to be killed so anyone who believed in Him could be saved from the fire of hell. Chocolate bunnies on Resurrection Day is just a bonus for fun. Enjoy.

  1. John Casillo's Avatar John Casillo

    HMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.......let's see.......the son of God allows himself to be killed... so that you and all children can enjoy the bunny and chocolate eggs in the hot sun,....spring being sprung on renewal?....early church services and sunrises...why not?...........Rev John

  1. Howard Robert Gossmeyer's Avatar Howard Robert Gossmeyer

    There is misinformation in this article. The pre-christian continental Germanics did not have Eostre as a goddess. The Germanic/Norse God's are all told in the Lore and Sagas of which Eostre was never mentioned. Eostre likewise has no archeoligical sites or evidence. The only evidence of Eostre comes from the Author Bede and his lore. Bede identifies Eostre as an Anglo-Saxon goddess with roots stemming to the pre-Roman Britannians. For scholarly information on Eostre please review:

    https://www.aldsidu.com/post/disting-vs-disablot-eostre-vs-eos-astarte-and-ishtar

  1. Howard Robert Gossmeyer's Avatar Howard Robert Gossmeyer

    Eostre was not a goddess of the Pre-Christian Germanics or Norse. This article is misinformed on many levels. The Pre-Christian Germanics were similar to the Norse. There is no evidence of Eostre in any of the Lore or Sagas nor any archeoligical evidence of veneration of Eostre. Bede is the only source of information on Eostre and links her to Anglo-Saxon Heathens stemming from Pre-Roman Britanians. For researched and cited source please review:

    https://www.aldsidu.com/post/disting-vs-disablot-eostre-vs-eos-astarte-and-ishtar

    1. John Camp Bernay III's Avatar John Camp Bernay III

      George Fraizer in his Golden Bough contradicts your thinking, and Lord Frazier had sources older and universal while your opinions are not souses.

      1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

        W T F YOU TALKIN BOUT MAN ???

    2. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

      You seem to be conflating norse with germaic. By the time they started being Norse most of the old ways from the land beyond the black sea had been changed by centruies of contact with greeks, then romans, and the trade from the east along the silk road.

      The nordic version of the old gods is as twisted and inaccurate as any other faith that altered as the culture traveled and traded with others. Odin is not Wotan even though Odin clearly was derived from Wotan. Odin is a much younger god/faith tradition. In fact younger then Christianity by no few centuries.

      The Viking culture was one of constant amalgamation. They were in fact quite a melting pot culture for the time. They cant even be defined by a specific set of genetics as we now have found such wide and divergent sets of remains buried side by side, we now recognize them as far less war mongering and far more as traders.

      This is why they ofcourse fell to the tribes in the americas when they came. As they came not as warriors but settlers and found themselves no match for the warrior culture of the north eastern tribes. Though odds are just like in later encounters with the next wave of invasion, its a safe bet it was the settlers who started the conflict by abusing some native woman.

  1. Sonya Lugo's Avatar Sonya Lugo

    WOW... Thank you for that information.

  1. Mary A. Deal's Avatar Mary A. Deal

    In my church we make sure the children understand all Holidays. We say Happy Resurrection Sunday - don’t get me wrong in the past we did the whole egg thing for the children and they had fun. When my kids were growing up I never put emphasis on new clothes however, they had something new to wear because they attended church each Sunday and still do with their children. Also, I never told them that Santa Clause brought gifts to them. We told them that we were their Santa Clause and that no jolly man in a white beard brought them gifts. I guess you know where I’m headed - no tooth fairy either! And they received money, I’m sure when they got older they said their parents were cheap - $1.00 wasn’t bad back in the day(80’s).

  1. David Arthur Lewis's Avatar David Arthur Lewis

    Be at Peace with Goddess, whatever you conceive her to be.

  1. Virginia Joiner's Avatar Virginia Joiner

    Eostre may or may not be associated with the Christian holiday or early Christians. I really don't know for sure. Easter is a Pagan Goddess of fertility that is worshiped or honored by many who follow the Witchcraft religions or paths during Ostara. Ostara is held during the Spring Equinox and is one of the Witches' Sabbats. During Ostara it is tradition to eat boiled eggs at dawn to welcome Spring and bring good blessings throughout the year. Brightly colored eggs are given as gifts to wish a person or family health and prosperity. Decorations for Ostara include early blooming flowers and plants to represent Mother Earth (or the Goddess) waking up and bringing forth life again after winter. Also eggs, rabbits and baby animals are used as decorations to represent fertility along with soft pastel colors. People ask the fertility Goddess for fertile crops and animals, and some couples asked for a baby. Feasts were held for days,often for at least 2 weeks. Today we don't have time for such long celebrations.

    During the bloody times that Catholics and Christians call the Crusades many Pagans died or their beliefs. Because of this most hid their beliefs and celebrated discretely. Instead of giving eggs openly, they started hiding the eggs for their children to find. This is how Easter Egg Hunts began. Pagans couldn't mention their Gods without persecution so they said that the Easter Hare hid the eggs, because rabbits and hares are a symbol of fertility and the Goddess Easter is said to ride on a giant hare. This is where the Easter Bunny comes from.

    I can't quote you a book or scholar that this information came from. We had to stay in hiding for so long that until recently nothing was written down. We have passed this information on from Crone to Maiden for centuries. There are still many of us hiding in the Broom Closet because Witches are still persecuted today. Thankfully there are more and more places becoming accepting of us, though there are still places where Witches are executed just for being Witches. I feel welcomed here enough to share this information with all of you. I hope you enjoyed reading it even if you don't share my beliefs.

    Happy Easter, Blessed Ostara, May you find good health and prosperity no matter what you celebrate this time of year.

    Love and Light, Rev. Virginia Joiner.

    1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

      Pardon me mam, but your information is terrible wrong. First of all you are not a wiccan you are a neo wiccan. The true ancient Wiccan faith is a dead faith as there is no one alive who practices the old ways accurately. They at best attempt to recreate and immitate that which is long lost. Even the cultures and peoples from the part of the world the faith was born define it as such, and they actually do have a scattered handful of real ones in isolated communities. But no you do not practice an ancient faith, you practice a modern incarnation of it that was born around 50 years ago.

      You also clearly do not understand the word Pagan its use or historical meaning. Pagans where what the Ealry mainstream roman christians labeled those who kept to the old roman faith traditions in rural regions. A true Pagan would be a follower of the old greco/roman cults that have endured for all these centuries. For example in Greece we are seeing an actual revival of the ancient Pagan traditions as modern Greeks push back against the christian faith that has invaded and dominated their society for far too long.

      The way you use Pagan is also more of a modern slang use for it, to label all non christian traditions, and does so poorly because it basically is saying they are less then by being a aprt of a large catch all term.

      I follow the way of the Beh'Jhen'daoi and am the only one alive who does, I am not a Pagan, I am not a Heathen. I am the last master of a way more ancient and obscure then any currently practiced on the Earth.

      Words have meaning, they have power, and while I understand the logic in trying to take a term used to insult and denigrate and make take it and turn it into something else. When you use such a word and start lumping everything into it, it diludes that intent and turns it back into a general insult.

      You are a Neo Wiccan, that is how the ULC itself defines those who are ordained under their banner in that tradition. If you truly wish to learn the old ways you need to travel to the lands along the Danube River. And there seek isolated communities that seem lost in the mists of time. Only there may you hope to find a true practitioner of the ancient faith of Weka.

    2. Virginia Joiner's Avatar Virginia Joiner

      I'm afraid that you are the one who is mistaken. I am not Wiccan. I am a Witch. Witches share some beliefs with Wiccans and other Witches, but follow many different Pagan and Christian religions. Witchcraft and the beliefs behind it have never died. They just went into hiding for a long time, being practiced in secret. Wicca is a modern religion. It was founded by Gerald Gardener in 1954, and is based on Witchcraft. There are a few other religions that are modern which are based on Witchcraft, and even a few based on Wicca.

      I practice Eclectic Witchcraft. My beliefs come from several old Pagan religions and belief systems, including the Old Ways that are past down and taught. If you really want to believe that the Crones I learned from are not real Witches then that's fine. You will believe what you want no matter what I say. We each follow our own path. I am Pagan. I am Heathen. I am a Witch.

      By the way, I can introduce you to other Pagans who follow ancient religions if you'd like. I know Pagans who worship Norse, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Celtic, and Druid Gods and Goddesses just to name a few.

      1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

        And the only ones that the word pagan accurately applies to above would be the greco/roman cult followers. Following Aries or Mars would be a Pagan tradition. Egyptians are not pagan or anywhere near close, except perhaps who descended from Alexanders armies and kept to greek faiths rather then egyptian ones.

        And where pray tell did your Witch teachings hail from? I have no issue with new traditions but tend to look at those that put the trappings of history on a faith without being able to offer more then. The very fact you are using terms and ideas that are part of modern pop fiction culture and not connected with the ancient.

        Oh and Weka, and Wekans are very old, and hail from the same part of the world and history as Wotan. Weka was very much a goddess, and is the goddess being reffered to in all the various tradtions that hail from that part of the world that refer to a nameless goddess. She is among the oldest concepts for the Earth Mother, or Gaia. Just as Wotan was the classic sky father.

        You sound far too much like one of those who think druids of today have anything to do with a people long lost to so many invasions and slaughters, that its the blood of the invaders who now play at the faith of those their forefathers made war upon. Much like when a white american dresses up in Native garb as a costume rather then as clothing given by a native friend such as I am so blessed to have been gifted in my life. Few white men have chokers like the one I own and can wear to honor my native friends rather then mock them.

        1. Virginia Joiner's Avatar Virginia Joiner

          I don't know where you get your information, but you are wrong on every aspect. You should talk to the Vatican about those religions not being Pagan, because they are the ones that pronounced those and many other religions as Pagan. According to several dictionaries that I checked, the definition of Pagan is anyone who worships more than one God as well as anyone who doesn't follow the Christian beliefs. I think you are getting Pagan mixed up with Secular, which means not bound by religious rule, not belonging to a monastic order, or having no spiritual basis.

          Witches have always been around. Wicca has not. Look it up. Gerald Gardner founded Gardnerian Wicca, also known as the original Wicca, based on what he had learned as an amateur anthropologist and archeologist, and as a member of an occult group. Witchcraft has been passed down through families, parents to children, for many generations. The reason you are just recently hearing about us has nothing to do with a modern religion. We are coming out of the shadows because we are more accepted now than in the past. Salem isn't the only Witch Trials that have happened, and not everyone accused of Witchcraft was innocent. Also, when Saint Patrick drove the Snakes out of Ireland not all of them were slaughtered. Some escaped to pass on their beliefs and religions in hiding. History was written by the victors, and is often skewed in their favor.

          In Wicca they worship the Mother Goddess, also known as the Moon Goddess, and the Horned God which is the God of nature not the sky. Often these Gods are not named, though some branches of Wicca worship Diana or Hecate as the Mother Goddess and Pan or Cernunnos as the Horned God. Weka is where the name comes from, but there aren't many other similarities between the two religions.

          As I said before you will not believe me no matter what I say, so I'm not arguing with you anymore. I never meant for this to be an argument in the first place. I was just trying to share what I know of the Sabbat associated with Easter. I will share one more thing with you before I go since you brought Native Americans into this. I am Eclectic in my beliefs because I embrace the beliefs of all my ancestors. They are Cherokee, Blackfoot, and Irish.

          1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

            Maybe you are not grasping what I am saying. There is indeed an ancient goddess named Weka, She was part of the same ancient tribal beliefs along the Danube that the god Wotan, the original god Odin is derived from, originated to the best of our history.

            I use the original defintion of Pagan, it was orginally a slur used by the early urban christian romans beginning around 300 AD give or take a century to label and denigrate those rural romans who kept to the old ways.

            Neo Wicannism is loosely based on the ancient traditions of Weka. Much like those who play at Odinism base what they do on their limited understanding of old norse culture and faith traditions.

            Considering the tradtion of Hex dolls is not one typically found outside of african traditions its odd you suggest that is normal in your form of witchcraft, whatver that is.

            I clearly explained above Weka was one of the earliest mother earth type goddesses we have ever come across in human cultures. She was the Earth Mother while Wotan was the Sky Father. The Tree of life is their child literally in those most ancient traditions. When modern wiccans pray to the goddess she is that goddess. I mean are you have trouble understanding how much the name Weka even sounds like Wicca and that is ofcourse by the design of the founder of modern neo wiccanism.

            So now you are saying your witch craft comes from Irish tradition? So yeah that would be one of the many derivatives of the tradtion I am talking about. Like you do get all the traditions and people in the UK are the product of centuries of celts and other tribes from along the danube following it west.

            There is 1 man, 1 in all of the UK with DNA binding him to the true ancient peoples of the UK. 1 man alive in that land with DNA binding him to the Cheddarman remains. Everyone else has closer blood ties to the nazi they fought against in WW2 then the actual first settlers of the british islands who were more akin to the same tribal people who settled the americas many thousands of years ago( Cheddarman is thought to be around 9000 years old)

            So as I said if you really wanted to learn about the ancient ways you seem to think you are so well versed in you would want to go wander along the Danube and seek remote isolated communites where ancient ways often linger on largely pristine.

            Whatever it is you are versed in, it does not sound remotely ancient nor even all that well defined to you.

  1. Donna Christ's Avatar Donna Christ

    Yes ,all of our traditions are pagan including getting married!

    1. Ilmenheru Terikson's Avatar Ilmenheru Terikson

      people wed in traditions long before christains coined the term pagan so no it is not. Jews are not pagans, and they had marriage traditions. Muslims practice the form of marriage that existed in their culture long before the rise of the muslim faith. Same with the peoples of India. Pagan is a term that only applies to specific faith traditions and a word used to insult them not define them.

      As one who has formally studied comparative myths and religions the word Pagan does not have any function when putting them into categories. We do not even think of the word as scholars of faith traditions.

  1. Donna Christ's Avatar Donna Christ

    Yes,all of our traditions are pagan including getting married

  1. Richard Lee Cornell's Avatar Richard Lee Cornell

    The Catholic Church would take a local God and transform them into Saints. One reason that the Catholic Church itself around the world without making too many of pagan religions made at them.

  1. Daniel Robert Bobay's Avatar Daniel Robert Bobay

    Wonderful history surrounding Easter, sometimes the destination takes the road least traveled just to see the sights along the way

  1. Christian's Avatar Christian

    It is perfectly wonderful to study all deities of all cultures.

    Celebration of Spring and Fertility are universal values across many cultures.

    As you examine middle east mythology, compare and contrast their ancient deities to other pantheons from South America, Asia, Africa & Europe.

    Of course, this is when Christian disciples of the Way of Love can compare and contrast their Empathology vs all other's mythology.

    Christ's Emathology teachings of the Good Samaritan are rooted in nearly universal values of Loving Compassion and Mindful Mercy - helping the sick and injured is the right thing to do, because you would want others to help you if you become sick and injured too. Teamwork for the whole family, town, community, country, nation, and whole world.

    Love is the new 'god'.
    No fantasy writings required. Just Be Kind, and Become Kindness.

    Love LOVE with all your being, this is the Magnifying Power for all disciples of the Way of Love. Love LOVE.

    Love all Beings - a challenge at first, because we may not be used to caring literally about every single person or creature, plant, animal, or insect we meet... But Love All is the teaching.

    Love Your Self. This recognizes two aspects of your life: 1. YES, you do have a 'Self' - both a mind and a body. So do not neglect or harm your mind, spirit, or body. Take good care of your soul and of your flesh. Meditate, relax, work, play, and pray. Eat healthy clean foods, get good sleep, and exercise too. :-)

    Love Enemies. Perhaps Christ's most challenging teaching ? Love those enemies and create new friendships.

    The only 'enemies' are ignorance and animosity... Such thinhs create malice and misunderstandings.

    Christ's logic is flawless: If everyone cared for everyone, needless suffering would decrease, and all joys of Heaven will be here on Earth as the outcomes of the clear spirit of truth.

    So enjoy learning about All cultures, history, and ancient mythology, such as the middle east cults...

    Even atheists can Love their friends & family and children, no mythology needed to learn the lessons of Love and compassion from the heart.

    Namaste. May your Loves Bless you now and always !

  1. Angel's Avatar Angel

    I really wish you would give facts...Christians celebrate Easter, Pagans celebrate Ostara which falls on the spring equinox. I don't even think Easter falls on the equinox. But, to coorrilate, yes, early Christians had to convert and people didn't want to lose their holidays so they created more "Christian based" holidays around the Pagan ones. And there is no evidence Jesus died Easter, if they did, the date wouldn't change every year, just like there is no evidence Jesus was born in the winter. But it doesn't really matter anyways, people will do as they wish and place it's own meaning to it.

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