How the bunny became an Easter symbol

These biological traits of rabbits and hares also prompted association with fertility in otherwise disconnected cultures. In Aztec mythology, there was a belief in the Centzon Tōtōchtin – a group of 400 godly rabbits who were said to hold drunken parties in celebration of abundance.

Even within Europe, different societies used rabbits as an icon of fecundity and linked them to deities of reproduction. According to the writings of the Venerable Bede (673-735 AD), an Anglo-Saxon deity named Ēostre was accompanied by a rabbit because she represented the rejuvenation and fertility of springtime. Her festival celebrations occurred in April, and it is commonly believed that through Ēostre we have acquired the name for Easter as well as her rabbit sidekick. If this is right, it means that long ago, Christian iconography appropriated and adopted symbols from older, pagan religions, blending them in with its own.

Does this close the case on the origins of the Easter Bunny? The problem with trying to give any definitive answer is the lack of evidence. Apart from Bede, there is no clear link between Ēostre and Easter, and Bede can’t be considered a direct source on Anglo-Saxon religion because he was writing from a Christian perspective. While it might seem very likely, the connection can never be proved for certain.

Rather like in Alice in Wonderland, the white rabbit can never be fully grasped. Through history, rabbits and hares have been seen as sacred and the epitome of craftiness. They have been connected with the enigmatic purity of the moon, with chastity and with superlative powers of fertility. It is with some justness that this supremely enigmatic animal continues to evade meaning. The further we chase the origins of the Easter Bunny, the more he disappears down the dark warrens, teasing our desperation for a logical answer to a surprisingly complex puzzle.

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