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What’s the Origin of the Easter Bunny?

Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, but the seasonal chocolate eggs and the bunny who delivers them are nowhere to be found in scripture.

The exact origins of the Easter bunny are clouded in mystery. One theory is that the symbol of the rabbit stems from pagan tradition, specifically the festival of Eostre—a goddess of fertility whose animal symbol was a bunny. Rabbits, known for their energetic breeding, have traditionally symbolized fertility.

Eggs are also representative of new life, and it’s believed that decorating eggs for Easter dates back to the 13th century. Hundreds of years ago, churches had their congregations abstain from eggs during Lent, allowing them to be consumed again on Easter. According to History.com, in the 19th-century Russian high society started exchanging ornately decorated eggs—even jewel-encrusted—on Easter.

But how did the Easter Bunny begin delivering eggs on American shores? According to History.com, the theory with the most evidence is that the floppy-eared bearer of candy came over with German immigrants:

According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit’s Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Additionally, children often left out carrots for the bunny in case he got hungry from all his hopping.

Bunnies aren’t the animal traditionally associated with Easter in every country. Some identify the holiday with other types of animals like foxes or cuckoo birds.

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