Alongside daffodils and hot cross buns, the Easter Bunny is synonymous with Spring. The endearing appeal of a rabbit in the countryside brings a smile to the face of even the most hardened cynic; and what child wouldn’t be excited by the idea of a basket-bearing bunny hopping from house to house on Easter Sunday, hiding brightly coloured eggs to delight.
Although inevitably shrouded in mystery, received wisdom has its cotton-tailed origins in the Germanic Festival of Eostre, Goddess of Fertility and Spring. Eostre’s symbol was the rabbit or hare … well known for their fruitfulness when it comes to baby bunnies and little leverets! Her name correlates with the Old English word for ‘the rising dawn’ Ēastre, with its strong associations with the Spring Equinox, banishing the darkness of winter. Religious festivals often blend Christian and non-Christian elements and the rabbit or hare’s associations with fertility were seized upon by religious artists, depicting the Virgin Mary with the animals in both paintings and illuminated manuscripts.
The first written reference to the Easter Hare was in 1682 in Georg Franck von Franckenau’s essay, De ovis paschalibus (‘About Easter Eggs’), referencing the tradition of the German 17th Century Easter Hare who would judge whether the children were good enough to partake in the Easter Egg Hunt (reminiscent of Saint Nick and his lump of coal!).
In medieval times, the week of Easter was when tenant farmers’ rent fell due, often paid in part with an abundance of eggs and rabbits for their landowner’s table … becoming a feature of the impending Easter feast. There are even those that believe the open field-nests that hares build in Spring may have confused our forefathers into believing that hares lay eggs! Whether or not that is plausible, the link between rabbits, eggs and Easter has many threads.
For Christians, eggs at Easter symbolise rebirth and resurrection. During Lent, eggs are one of the foods commonly abstained from (hence pancake-making on Shrove Tuesday to use up the eggs in the house). So, when Easter Sunday comes around, the concept of an egg is a real treat – chocolate or not – and the Easter Bunny’s participation is a perfectly symbolic way of delivering them.
This spring we have a veritable parade of Easter Bunnies & Hares who are poking their whiskered noses our of the ‘Beyond Bears Collection’ and have been give their own category for the season! Sign up to our mailing list for a spring discount code on these and our new bears!
PAWS FOR THOUGHT
As a child Queen Victoria enjoyed egg hunts and so continued this German tradition, hiding eggs for her own children. Albert was responsible for hiding the eggs, concealing them in ‘little moss baskets’ around the palace and gardens. It was in Victorian times that the greeting card became a staple in celebrations and our Easter Bunny was a central character in their artworks, often in the most quirky illustrations!