We have probably all heard the old idea that the Easter Bunny comes from a pagan festival, but there are more ideas than that floating around about the Easter Bunny. It is true that English got its word for Easter from the Germans. There was an old Saxon goddess named Eostre (alternate spellings: Ostara, Oestre). She was the goddess of spring and fertility. The Saxons are the German tribe that went in to England and joined the Gaelic and Pict who were already there, and then eventually even meshed with Romans most of who didn’t stay, but extremely influenced England. The celebration of this goddess in the spring time and the Passover of the Jews just happened to follow at the same time. In many European languages, Easter is not named after the Saxon goddess, but after Passover. In Romanian, Easter is “Past’ (pronounced pasht). In Spanish, Easter is “Pascua” also meaning Passover. It seems that through history, we seem to have condensed these two holidays into one, and also added the death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ into the mix because it was during Passover week that Jesus died, was buried, and then rose from the dead. There is more than just the names that have been mixed together.
There is an ancient Greek belief that rabbits could have babies without mating. The New Testament was originally written in Greek, and Jesus and the apostles did their preaching in the Greek language. The ancient Germans also had the same belief about rabbits being able to have babies without mating. The symbol of the old Germanic goddess, Eostre was a hare, a large rabbit because rabbits are known for having lots and lots of babies, the symbol of fertility.
In medieval times, they began associating the rabbit with the virgin Mary. Mary had Christ without having slept with a man, so they would make pictures of her and rabbits. The Catholics insist that the rabbit is a Christian symbol because of the ancient Catholics believed that rabbits could have babies without mating like Mary did.
There is an old pagan story about the goddess Eostre. It seems that spring came late one year. She found a frozen bird in the snow. She took mercy on it and turned it into a rabbit who could lay multi colored eggs only during the festival of Eastre that happened to take place at the same time as the Passover.
German children believe that “Oschter Haws” (the Easter Bunny) brings them colored eggs and chocolate on Easter just like Santa Claus brings gifts and chocolate on Christmas. However, in some parts of Germany, they believe that a fox brings the eggs rather than a rabbit, and some of German heritage in Switzerland believe that a cuckoo brings the eggs.
The Dutch brought the “Oschter Haws” tradition to America in the 1700’s. They were Dutch Lutheran settlers, more Germans. The children used their Easter hats or Easter bonnets like baskets and put them out for the Easter Rabbit to put the eggs, chocolates, and for some, toys in. As usual, the Americans liked the tradition and copied it making it something that all American do on Easter. Americans have a tendency to take everyone’s traditions and enjoy them without understanding them like they did with the Christmas tree and with Halloween that were both brought to America by European immigrants.
It seems that three holidays blended to become one, the old Eastre festival, Passover, and the celebration of the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus. Easter is considered the only truly religious holiday because the Passover and the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus are recorded in the Bible. We know for a fact when Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the grave, and we know when the Jews celebrated Passover. If we talk about Christmas, the time of Jesus’ birth is not as concrete as his death. English is a language that was influenced by the Saxons, the German tribe that went into England. If you want to read the earliest books in English, you couldn’t understand them, and if someone read them out loud, they would sound like German to you. Christianity came to Europe, and the old holidays and the news ones meshed. Now a days, we have a hard time sorting out what came from where because these holidays have been celebrated for so many years and had so much influence from different societies.