Easter is the time for family get-togethers, picnics at the park, and church events. It is a time for children to dress in their Sunday best while running around looking for hidden Easter eggs, decorated with bright and shining colors; eating marshmallow ducks and rabbit-shaped chocolate candies; and taking pictures with the Easter bunny at the mall. This last activity begs the question: What does the Easter bunny have to do with Easter?
The Easter bunny’s origins come from an old German tradition where the Easter bunny would judge children whether they behaved or misbehaved. The use of rabbits in early European folklore alluded to the rabbit’s reproduction rate and the beginning of spring, where the young of most animals are born. Rabbits, or more precisely hares, where used in early church iconography—the hares would be depicted with connected ears—to represent the Trinity. Although rabbits and hares are different species, in spoken language, there seems to be no difference when collectively speaking about them. The same can occur in German where the word Hase can, in a specific way, refer to a hare, but can also generally apply to rabbits.
Other cultures around the world have folktales about the rabbit. In Aztec folklore, the god Quetzalcoatl was walking the earth in human form and found himself hungry. When a rabbit, or tōchtli in Nahuatl, approached the dying god, it offered itself to be eaten by Quetzalcoatl. As a reward for the rabbit’s kindness, Quetzalcoatl lifted the rabbit up to the moon, imprinting the rabbit’s body into the face of the moon, and brought it back to earth telling it that everybody who looks up to the moon will remember the rabbit’s kindness and selflessness. A similar story can be found in Chinese folklore, about . The rabbit, or 兔—tù, is one of the animals that comprise the Chinese zodiac. It is believed that people born in the year of the rabbit are kind, intelligent, and live long. On the other hand, in African folklore, especially those of the Yoruba and other West African cultures, the rabbit or hare is depicted as trickster figures. These trickster rabbits were the origin of Br’er Rabbit.
The rabbit has had many symbolisms in the cultures of the world. Whether it symbolized the renewal of the spring season, a Santa Clause-like figure, a selfless helper of gods, or a trickster, rabbits and hares are and will be part of our culture. Many children’s stories depict rabbits, a good example is Peter Rabbit, who not only is kind and selfless, but also a trickster of sorts.