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The Easter Bunny is a rabbit who delivers eggs to people (primarily in North America and certain parts of Europe) on Easter. The eggs may be real ones that have been painted, chocolate ones or colored plastic ones that may or may not contain candy.
The Easter Bunny enters history in the year 1682, when an Alsatian German professor at the University of Strasbourg, Georg Franck von Frankenau, wrote Disputatio ordinaria disquiriens de ovis paschalibus, a macaronic Latin-German essay about Easter eggs that no doubt seemed very clever at the time (and rose to #4 on the New York Times bestseller list for 1682.)
Notwithstanding the fact that the rabbit's association with Easter appears first in Alsace in the seventeenth century, various nineteenth century folklorists and their followers just knew that the Easter Bunny had to be a "pagan survival". The usual reasoning process to arrive at this conclusion was given an unusually frank treatment in Holtzmann's German Mythology: "The Easter Hare is unintelligible to me, but probably the hare was the sacred animal of Ostara". The existence of the alleged goddess Ostara is likewise dubious.
Elsewhere in Germany, the Easter Hare was eaten. This was said to "openly bear the marks of the original paganism;" none but a heathen bold would make a dinner of hassenpfeffer, it seems. And:
“”At Coleshill, in Warwickshire, if the young men of the parish can catch a hare, and bring it to the parson before 10 o'clock on Easter Monday, the parson is bound to give them a calf's head and a hundred of eggs for their breakfast, and a groat in money.
This too, apparently, counted as pagan; if eating a calf's head for breakfast doesn't make you pagan, we don't know what will. It is understood that the offer still stands.
As rabbits don't have anything to do with Christian theology, and play only a slight role in pagan theology as well, why this continues to be accepted by some fundamentalists remains a mystery. The pagan survival folklorists had to go as far as the Menominee god Manibozho before they could find pagans actually worshipping rabbits. The poet Martial, a genuine pagan, knew nothing of the Easter Bunny, but he did mention a belief that eating rabbit for seven days straight would turn any woman beautiful.
Should the Easter Bunny arrive at your house, and you are feeling humane, trap it and steal its eggs. If not, kill it and steal its eggs. You are upholding the authentic tradition that way.
- Devereaux, Robert. Santa Steps Out. (Leisure Books, 1998; ISBN 0843947810)
- Franck von Franckenau, Georg. "Satyrae Medicae, Continuatio Franck von Franckenau, Georg". Europeana. http://www.europeana.eu/resolve/record/09428/urn_nbn_de_bsz_24_digibib_bsz3355896347. Retrieved 2014-07-02.
- Billson, Charles J. "The Easter Hare, in Folk-Lore, Volume 3, Number 4 (December 1896).
- Si quando leporem mittis mihi, Gellia, dicis:
'Formosus septem, Marce, diebus eris.'
Si non derides, si verum, lux mea, narras,
Edisti numquam, Gellia, tu leporem.
Martial, Epigrams 5.29