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So Why Are Bunnies So Popular for Easter Anyway?

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The origins of the Easter Bunny are more mysterious than you think, and religion has nothing to do with it.

By Elisa Roland from Readers Digest

Who isn’t familiar with the origins of Bugs, Thumper, or Peter Cottontail? These famous bunnies are beloved characters from classic childhood cartoons, movies, and literature. But did you ever wonder how the most famous bunny of all, the Easter Bunny, became synonymous with a holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus?

While there isn’t any historical documentation that explains how a rabbit became the “furry” face of Easter, the most obvious connection may be the calendar. April showers not only brings spring flowers, but the birth of baby rabbits. Both springtime and bunnies are iconic symbols of birth and renewal. “Rabbits (originally hares) are longstanding fertility symbols associated with the arrival of spring, because they are so prolific and give birth as soon as the weather warms,” notes Diane Shane Fruchtman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Religion, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

But according to Dr. Fruchtman, there’s no religious significance to a bunny being part of the Easter holiday. “The holiday of Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus who, according to the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, celebrated the Jewish Passover holiday on a Thursday (the last supper was a Passover Seder, celebrating the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt), was crucified on a Friday, and rose from the dead on a Sunday, on the third day after his crucifixion.”

In fact, the Easter Egg has more historical context than the Easter Bunny in that eggs may have been part of the Passover Seder plate at the last supper, as it still is today. “We don’t know for sure, but later Jewish sources firmly incorporate the egg in the Passover ritual,” Dr. Fruchtman says, “though there are no bunnies to be found.”

The earliest reference to the Easter Bunny dates back to some time before the 17th century, when the Germanic people of Europe introduced the Osterhase—a rabbit, who brought gifts to children at Easter time. As History.com explains: When these Germanic immigrants settled in America in the 1700s they brought this tradition with them to Pennsylvania. The tradition even included children leaving carrots out for the Osterhase, much like leaving cookies for Santa at Christmas.  

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