Image: Bunny
Courtesy of Ian O'Neill, Library of Congress
Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots.
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updated 4/2/2010 11:47:16 AM ET 2010-04-02T15:47:16

There's no story in the Bible about a long-eared, cotton-tailed creature known as the Easter Bunny. Neither is there a passage about young children painting eggs or hunting for baskets overflowing with scrumptious Easter goodies.

And real rabbits certainly don't lay eggs.

So why are these traditions so ingrained in Easter Sunday? And what do they have to do with the resurrection of Jesus?

Well, nothing.

Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. They were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

According to University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture, the origin of the celebration — and the Easter bunny — can be traced back to 13th century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshiped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honor on the Vernal Equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.

Spring also symbolized new life and rebirth; eggs were an ancient symbol of fertility. According to History.com, Easter eggs represent Jesus' resurrection. However, this association came much later when Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in Germany in the 15th century and merged with already ingrained pagan beliefs.

The first Easter bunny legends were documented in the 1500s. By 1680, the first story about a rabbit laying eggs and hiding them in a garden was published. These legends were brought to the United States in the 1700s when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country, according to the University of Florida's Center for Children.

The tradition of making nests for the rabbit to lay its eggs soon followed. Eventually, nests became decorated baskets and colorful eggs were swapped for candy, treats and other small gifts.

So while you're scarfing down chocolate bunnies (hey, I hear chocolate is good for you!) and marshmallow chicks this Easter Sunday, think fondly of this holiday's origins and maybe even impress your friends at your local Easter egg hunt.

Happy Easter!

© 2012 Discovery Channel

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