As a Christian, have you ever wondered how the Easter story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the empty tomb as told in John 20:1-18 translated into a bunny that delivers eggs to backyards? Where did this Easter symbolism even come from, and what on earth do rabbits have to do with the resurrection story?
Hailing as far back as the Anglo-Saxon period, the idea of the Easter Bunny evolved from a pagan deity to a rabbit that leaves treats for all the good boys and girls.
That begs the question, “Is the Easter Bunny a secular attempt to distract people from the true meaning of Easter, or are there Christian symbols embedded in this weird twist on the holiday?”
When and where the Easter Bunny tradition began
Believe it or not, the Easter Bunny isn’t the only odd tradition that takes place during Easter season.
On the Saturday before Easter, residents of Greece will throw pots out the window, and on Easter Monday boys in Poland will attempt to get people wet by throwing buckets of water on them.
The Easter Bunny origin, however, can likely be traced back to the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon era where pagans would worship a deity that took the form of a rabbit, Eostre.
Known as the goddess of springtime or dawn, Eostre (or sometimes called “Eostra” or “Eastre”) is associated with rabbits, pastels, and springtime celebrations.
In other cultures like ancient Rome and even prior, rabbits were associated with rebirth and new life. Because of this, people would include rabbits on their gravestones.
So, how did the Christian holiday get wrapped up in this?
Similar to Christmas and Halloween, Christians attempted to blend elements of pagan religion with Christian tradition in order to make the message of Christianity more palpable to those of other religions.
When a group of monks in the late fourth century went to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, they mixed together elements of the pagan holiday with their Christian calendar.
As for the tradition of a bunny that brings children candy, this practice came to America through German immigrants. Similar to Halloween, the tradition has, through the years, evolved more into candy-themed festivities for children.
Concerning Easter eggs, cultures throughout history have viewed fertility and the bringing of life through eggs. Many statues of fertility goddesses, such as statues of Ishtar from Babylon, are often covered in eggs.
Dyed eggs were likely consumed at spring festivals, which explains why some people dip-dye eggs on Easter. Christians could’ve seen this egg imagery equated with a symbol of life and incorporated eggs into a holiday celebrating eternal life.
What the Easter Bunny has to do with Jesus
Strictly speaking, the Easter Bunny doesn’t directly have much to do with Jesus. Nowhere in the Bible does a rabbit of any sort appear in the Easter narrative, and rabbit imagery in general isn’t found in the Bible—besides the fact that the Jews were forbidden to eat them due to their unclean nature as told by Leviticus 11:6.
Even though the origins of the Easter Bunny are a bit shrouded in mystery, it most likely does have pagan roots with Eostre, the goddess.
Knowing rabbits don’t signify Jesus, however, doesn’t bar ways to observe Christian truths within symbols that are not Christian.
Look at the example of Paul in Athens. There, in the capital of Greece, he encountered a statue to an unknown god. The Grecians, according to Acts 17:23, tried to cover all their bases and decided to erect this to pay homage to a god they didn’t know or understand, just in case.
Paul used this pagan symbol as a way to point them to Christ, telling them about the God they do not know and creating a Gospel presentation from that.
In the same way, with holidays that have pagan origins or traditions (such as Christmas, Halloween, and Easter) Christians have found ways to make the Gospel understandable to cultures through using their symbols and traditions.
How the Easter Bunny and eggs relate to resurrection and new life
Because the Easter Bunny is likely crafted after the pagan goddess of springtime and eggs have a historical tie with the symbol of new life, these symbols are easily translatable to the idea of the new life that comes through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Also, rabbits are known for multiplying. In this way, the idea of the Great Commission can be applied to rabbits; believers are to go and make disciples of all nations, according to Matthew 28:16-20.
Many churches will often fill plastic Easter eggs with symbols of the crucifixion and resurrection story (instead of candy) to remind kids about the reason for the Easter season. Some examples of these egg contents may be:
• A donkey (or a drawing of a donkey) to symbolize Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as told in Matthew 21:1-11.
• A purple cloth to represent the “robe” placed on Jesus, mocking Him at His crucifixion.
• Nails to represent the nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet on the cross, illustrated in Mark 15:24-26.
• An empty egg to represent the empty tomb of Jesus on the third day when He rose again, according to Luke 24.
Reasons why Christians might still celebrate the Easter Bunny
If the Easter Bunny technically has a pagan origin, why do Christians still celebrate it and also have Easter egg hunts at church?
First, the Easter Bunny and Easter egg might be seen as outreach programs in local communities. Similar to trunk-or-treat on Halloween, a tradition that allows kids to come in costume at churches and receive candy in a safer environment, churches can invite children of the local community to participate in an Easter egg hunt at the church.
Secondly, God can use anything to bring others to Him. This includes originally pagan symbols such as the Easter Bunny.
Like Paul speaking about the statue to the unknown God, Christians can use the Easter bunny to bring a Gospel message out of a well-known cultural image.
Thirdly, certain symbols like the Easter eggs can be repurposed to showcase a Gospel message. Instead of candy (although many people still have Easter egg hunts with candy as a method of outreach), believers can use symbols like the donkey, cloth, and nails to present the message of Jesus’s death and resurrection in a tangible and memorable way.
Finally, Christians can’t always operate in a bubble. Even if believers shy away from the Easter Bunny, from Christmas trees, or from anything that has an origin that isn’t strictly from the Bible, followers of Christ can’t completely isolate themselves—or they’ll lose faith’s effectiveness. (A good scripture for this is Matthew 5:13.) Loads of items are used each day (for example, cars, cell phones, and computers) that the Bible doesn’t say anything about.
Nevertheless, these items as vessels to show others Christ and bring others to Him.
And there you have it! There’s the connections. Happy Easter!