Excuse me, but have you ever seen bunnies laying eggs? Me neither. Can somebody please tell me how the logical Germans came up with the idea of a bunny laying eggs for a Christian holiday? Also, how did this weird bunny tradition arrive in the States?
The Easter bunny comes from Germany
Easter is an important event in Germany. People celebrate this public holiday with a four-day weekend, while children get to binge on chocolate. Lindt and Milka are the most famous Easter confectioners, but many others provide enough chocolate to make desserts for a month!
According to biologist Beate Witzel at the Berlin City Museum, the Easter Bunny (“Osterhase” in German) was a German creation dating back to the 18th century. According to the most frequent interpretation of this phenomenon, rabbits were an ancient symbol of fertility and new life. “From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’… resurrection,” wrote History in its article “Easter Symbols and Traditions.”
Okay, I get it. The bunny is carrying (not laying) a basket of eggs as a symbol of life. This still sounds strange to me, but maybe that’s because I grew up in France where Easter eggs come from Easter hens… or Easter bells. Granted, the latter providers aren’t really better than bunnies, but more on that later.
How did the Easter bunny arrive in the States?
In 1910, Germany was the top birth nationality among US immigrants, and today almost 50 million Americans claim German origins. During the 1700s, German settlers brought their traditions to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Easter bunnies and egg decorations were part of their heritage; over the past 200 years, they have become recognized symbols of Easter in the United States.
Easter in France
Easter is also an important holiday in France as both a religious event and an occasion for huge family gatherings. I used to go egg hunting on Easter Sunday, and I’ve passed this tradition to my children. Curiously, as a child I never questioned where Easter eggs came from, probably because I was so excited by the huge chocolate eggs in every bakery (and even chocolate hens filled with small chocolate eggs). However, in France the church bells actually bring treats for children.
Yes, I know: this sounds as weird as a bunny laying eggs! But, the explanation is actually pretty logical. In the Catholic tradition, church bells don’t ring between Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and Easter Sunday morning to commemorate the death and burial of Jesus. Once the bells ring again to signify Christ’s resurrection, children can go egg hunting.
When I was a child in France, my mom told me that the bells were flying to the Pope to get blessed before returning with presents, which also explains why the bells have little wings. It’s kind of magical, isn’t it?
The Easter egg tradition
The most logical explanation of all these Easter eggs is that the Catholic Church forbade eating eggs during Lent. Because the hens still laid them during Lent, there was a surplus of eggs. In the Middle Ages, many people believed that boiled eggs were edible for weeks (they are not, so eat them within 7 days if you keep them in the fridge all the time!). Thus, they tried to preserve them by boiling and dyeing them with beet juice.
I tried this once with my oldest daughter when she was little. We made such a mess that I refused to do any egg coloring in my house again. Besides, I can only imagine my children’s faces if I placed boiled eggs instead of chocolate ones in the yard…
A wonderful German commercial for Easter
I have already talked at length about German humor in this older post. Likewise, many people also underestimate Germans in terms of their creativity. The German supermarket chain Netto (comparable to Aldi or Lidl) offers another compelling and cute explanation of the birth of Easter eggs. I think you’ll enjoy watching the two-minute video:
Happy Easter to you and your family!