In Depth

Where did the Easter Bunny come from and why does he bring gifts?

Mystery surrounds the origins of the tradition - and in some countries, he's not even a rabbit

160317-easter-bunny-evil.jpg

The bunny has long been a symbol of Easter in the western world, but why remains shrouded in mystery.

Any parent will tell you that he sneaks into homes on the eve of Easter Sunday to deliver baskets full of coloured eggs, toys and chocolate to adults and children alike.

Often clothed and sometimes terrifying (pictured above), the Easter Bunny has become the Santa Claus of the egg-stravaganza.

But where did the tradition first start?

German Roots

There are many theories about the beginnings of the Easter Bunny, but most agree it has pagan roots.

One theory is that the symbol of the rabbit had been used in pre-Christian times for springtime festivals. Rabbits, being excessively fertile creatures, were perfect as examples of rebirth and renewal. As Christianity spread, Easter began to be celebrated and took on some of the motifs of the pagan festivals at the time.

Easter bunnies were first mentioned in the 1682 book De Ovis Paschalibus (About Easter Eggs), by Georg Franck von Franckenau, which told of the German tradition of a hare bringing Easter eggs for the children.

According to History.com, German immigrants moving to Pennsylvania brought with them their tradition of an egg-laying hare called "Osterhase" or "Oschter Haws". Their children also made nests in which this creature could lay its coloured eggs.

Eventually, says the website, the custom spread across the US and to the UK, where the fabled rabbit's deliveries expanded to include chocolate, sweets and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests.

Global differences

Bunnies are not associated with Easter in every country, however. Easter eggs are delivered by a cuckoo in Switzerland and a fox in parts of Germany, notes the BBC.

Australia's view on rabbits is a little less rosy. Bunnies down under are a serious pest, breeding extensively and destroying crops and gardens. Because of this, the honours are done by the Easter Bilby, an endangered marsupial that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a fox.

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