Most people are familiar with British author Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Many are also familiar with the children's song, "Here comes Peter Cottontail." It's part of the Easter holiday celebrations. Where did Easter come from, and what does the rabbit have to do with Easter celebrations? Surprisingly, more than meets the eye!
Stores in the spring time display all manner of Easter Bunny decorations and pictures and chocolate bunnies along with all of the other trappings of the Easter holiday. Just where did the Easter Bunny come from?
In Egypt there were many gods and goddesses, and they were represented in numerous ways. They were often given an animal form as a symbolic representation. Many were depicted as a human body with an animal or bird head. Many gods and goddesses overlapped the functions of others and earlier tribal goddesses merged over time. An example is Isis, goddess of fertility (and magic and healing), who is known under many names all over the world.
Unut was the Egyptian hare goddess (though she was originally depicted as a snake). Sculptures were discovered in the Men-Kau-Re Valley temple in Egypt which depicted King Men-Kau-Re (grandson of Khufu), the goddess Hathor (the celestial mother of the sun calf), and Hermopolite, or the hare nome, wearing the hare standard. Upper Egyptian nomes, or provinces, were usually represented in the form of a standard. There is an Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol for the hare. The Egyptian word for hare was un which meant "to open" or "the opener." The hare symbol may have been used for the word "to open" because a hare is born with its eyes open. The hare symbolized the opening of the new year and the beginning of new life in the spring at the vernal equinox.
The mythology of ancient people spread all over the world. The Saxon goddess Eostre is synonymous with the Phoenician goddess Astarte, goddess of the moon and the measurer of time. Associating the hare with the moon is thought to be related to the hare's gestation period of one month, and to the hare's nocturnal feeding. The association of rabbits and the moon can be found all over the world. In China, figures of hares are commonly found at Chinese moon festivals, where they represent fertility. The "hare in the moon" is far more prevalent than the "man in the moon."
In ancient Anglo-Saxon myth, the goddess Eostre/Ostara/Astarte, etc., is associated with the spring and fertility, the moon, and also personifiies greeting the rising sun. To amuse children, Eostre changed her pet bird into a hare that layed brightly colored eggs which the goddess gave to the children. Saxons held the pagan festival for Eostra on the vernal equinox, the beginning of spring.
The Easter Bunny came to America in the 1700s by immigrants from Germany where it had been called "Osterhase"—Oster or Oschter being German for Easter (derived from Eostra, Ishtar, etc.), and hase being the German word for hare.
The word "Easter" is not in any reliable translation of the Bible, though it has been incorrectly translated as Easter (KJV) from the original word pascha, which is Passover. Nor does the Bible have a fertility festival involving a rabbit laying colored eggs. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits: "The Easter Rabbit lays the eggs, for which reason they are hidden in a nest or in the garden. The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility (Simrock, Mythologie, p. 551)."
So why have a religious holiday named after a pagan hare goddess? And the bigger questions are, "What festivals does God want us to observe?" and "Shouldn't we observe the Holy Days observed by Christ and the Apostles?"
To answer these questions, search this website, and request your free copy of The Holy Days—God's Master Plan.