As Easter approaches and children prepare for and anticipate the Easter bunny’s visit, hares can be seen chasing around the fields and boxing in broad daylight. The spring brings a change to this animal’s normally shy nature as their mating season begins. In Pagan times the Hare was a symbol of the spring goddess, associated with reproduction and fertility. So could traditional associations with the Easter Bunny have originated from ancient celebrations centered on the Hare?
The Easter Bunny does not featured in the Bible and early Christians kept the Passover, rather than Easter. Easter celebrations originated in Pagan times. The name ‘Easter’ comes from ‘Ostera’ or ‘Eostre’ the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. Each year a festival was held in her honor and her animal, the Hare, is incorporated in our Easter celebrations.
It was the Anglo-Saxons who brought their gods and goddesses to Britain, one of whom was the above-mentioned goddess Eostre. Her festival was celebrated with dancing, rejoicing for the rebirth of living things and fertility rites. Although little is known about her, her sacred animal was the Hare and it is her name we now use to describe the Christian spring festival of Easter. Another of her symbols, representing rebirth, was the egg.
Early man developed a deep awareness of nature and the wild animals around him. Some of these were attributed supernatural powers and the hare is one of these animals. Ancient Britons held the hare in such high esteem for its power of divination that no ordinary man would eat its flesh. Dyed eggs were also used in pagan spring Festivals and thus began the origins of the “Easter Egg.”
Associated with the goddess Eostre, the hare obtained an important place in ancient customs around Easter time. In modern times, it is the rabbit that is more popularly known as a symbol of fertility, and the cute little Easter Bunny has become the sacred animal of Eostre in a gentler guise. As the traditions of the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs evolved, they were linked together to form our modern Easter celebrations that associate the Easter Rabbit with the Easter Egg.
In some areas, the sacred Hare is still celebrated at Easter. For instance, a spring festival custom on Easter Monday in the small village of Hallaton in Leicestershire is the Hare-Pie Scramble. A hare-pie (which does not really contain hare meat) is cut up and distributed by the rector. Some of the pie is taken in procession to Hare-Pie Hill where it is scattered over the ground, a symbol of the sacred animal being dispersed over the land to ensure its fertility.
Modern-day Easter celebrations involving the Easter Bunny are likely to have been derived from Pagan spring celebrations worshiping the goddess Eostre and her sacred Hare.