Saturday, February 25, 2012

Whence Came the Easter Bunny?

St. Bede, the 8th-century English scholar, believed the name Easter originated with the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre,” goddesses of spring and fertility. (Gee. Guess how the word “estrogen” got started?)  Their festivals were appropriately celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox, on or around March 21, when days lengthen, weather warms, and things start growing again.
So what’s with the bunny? According to “The Unauthorized Biography of the Easter Bunny” in the spring issue of Mental_Floss, he’s a German sleeper agent. His roots go back to a 16th century character named Osterhase, who infiltrated North America during a mass migration  of Germans in the 1900’s.

What accounts for his meteoric rise in the egg delivery business?  Charm and virility. Both rabbits and eggs have been symbols of rebirth for centuries. And when Germans started hiding eggs for children back in the 16th century, hares’ nests were the hidey-holes of choice.

Not all Western Cultures embrace bunnies. In Australia, for instance, they’re a devastating, crop-ravaging plague. In the 1990s, they finally hit upon a replacement for the hated hare: the bilby. Bilbies are long-eared marsupials that can look like Easter bunnies while still respecting Australia’s valuable crops.  So down under, the kids are treated to chocolate bilbies.
So there you have it. Happy Vernal Equinox!

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