The story of the Easter Bunny has its origins in pre-Christian Germany where the Teutonic deity Eostra was goddess of spring and fertility. The name Easter, in fact, comes from the name Eostra. According to Teutonic myth, a little girl found a bird that was close to death and prayed to Eostra for help. Eostra appeared, crossing a rainbow bridge -- the snow melting before her feet. Seeing the bird was badly wounded, she turned it into a hare, and told the little girl that from now on, the hare would come back once a year bearing rainbow colored eggs.
Easter Bunny legends were first written down in Germany in the 1500s, and, about 1680, the first story about a bunny laying eggs and hiding them in a garden was published. These legends were preserved and improved upon by the Pennsylvania Dutch, who referred to the Bunny as the Oschter Haws. Beginning in the1680s, children around Germantown Pennsylvania would build nests out of hats and bonnets, place them in the yard, or out by the barn, and, on Easter morning, they would be found filled with colorful eggs. The decorated hats and bonnets eventually evolved into fanciful Easter baskets.
In the 1800s, in Germany, a very important advance in Easter morning rituals was achieved when the first edible Easter bunnies were made. They were made of pastry and sugar -- the chocolate ones followed quickly on their heels. Like Christmas and Halloween, the Christian holiday of Easter was not celebrated throughout much of the United States until well into the 1800s. After the Civil War, however, the Easter Bunny began hopping up with more regularity.
In the 20th Century, the bunny's popularity soared, and, in the 1950s, songwriters Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins sat down and wrote a follow up to their Christmas hit, "Frosty the Snowman." The result was: Here comes Peter Cottontail / Hoppin' down the bunny trail / Hippity Hoppity Easter's on its way!" The popularity of the Peter Cottontail song led to an animated television special and, like Santa, Mr. E. Bunny began to receive numerous requests for personal appearances at shopping malls -- which is perhaps when, for some children, the Easter bunny took on a frightening aspect -- after all -- that is one huge rabbit -- six feet tall -- walking on its hind legs -- sneaking around your house when you're asleep -- never saying a word. For me, when I was a kid, I remember thinking, "If he'll just leave the eggs and candy in the yard ....that'd be fine."
Copyright 2007© Kevin Shortsleeve
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