What’s the connection between Easter and rabbits?

Dear Cecil:

It being spring and all, we would like to know what the connection is between Easter and rabbits, and for that matter between rabbits and eggs. My uncle told me that when the west was in the process of being won, trappers knew it was Easter when the first rabbits of the season appeared. That explains things locally, I guess, but does it mean they don't have chocolate Easter bunnies in Paris?

Cecil replies:

I realize we’re getting to this one a little late, gang, but I feel the Easter bunny is one of those subjects with year-round relevance. Many stories have been told to explain the EB’s origin. There’s the one about the rich lady in medieval times who hid eggs around the backyard as a springtime treat for the neighborhood urchins. Seeing a wild hare or two bounding about the premises and then finding a mysterious egg a short time later, the kids supposedly concluded that the former had laid the latter. Charming, sure, but less than satisfying to the scientific mind.

In reality the association of Easter, eggs, and rabbits dates back to the early Christian era, when the celebration of the Resurrection became conflated with traditional spring fertility rites. Eggs and rabbits, for obvious reasons, are fertility symbols of long standing. Indeed, in the eighth century, the Venerable Bede speculated that the word “Easter” was originally the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring/dawn/fertility (although this has been disputed). Once again we find that one of our sacred days is tainted with lust. Incidentally, the usual symbol in Europe, where this all got started, is actually the hare. The relatively hare-starved U.S. was obliged to substitute the smaller but cuter bunny rabbit.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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