The Easter Bunny is a well-known and beloved Easter tradition that ironically has nothing to do with the Christian ritual of Easter. Traditionally, the creature brings baskets filled with colored eggs, candy and sometimes toys to the homes of children on the night before Easter. The baskets will either be put in a designated place or hidden somewhere in the house or garden for the children to find when they wake up in the morning. The Easter Bunny is very similar to its Christmas counterpart, Santa Claus, in that they both bring gifts to children on the night before their respective holiday.
The Easter Bunny was first mentioned in European literature in Georg Franck von Frankenau’s 17th century “De ovis paschalibus” (or, “About the Easter Egg”) referring to an Alsace tradition of an Easter hare bringing Easter eggs. 18th century German immigrants brought the custom of an easter egg hunt to the United States. In Pennsylvania Dutch country, German immigrants taught their children about the “Osterhas” (or, Easter hare); children would build a nest in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys would use their caps and girls their bonnets to make the nests. The use of elaborate Easter baskets would come later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread throughout the country. Apparently, only good children received gifts of colored eggs – again, similar to Santa Claus’ naughty-and-nice list.
During the 19th century the Grimm brothers put down into writing what had previously been preserved by oral tradition.
The word “Easter” comes from Old English Ēostre/Ēastre and Old High German Ôstarâ, the names of a Germanic goddess whose Anglo-Saxon month, Ēostur-monath, has given its name to the Christian festival of Easter. Eostre is attested only by Bede, in his 8th century work “De temporum ratione” (or, The Reckoning of Time). Nothing is known about Ēostre outside of Bede’s single passage. Eostre/Ostara was celebrated by pre-Christian religions on the first day of spring (vernal equinox).
Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are ancient pagan fertility symbols. Birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in early spring, and so became connected to fertility rituals during the vernal equinox.
The Easter Bunny is one of several examples of how pagan and Christian religious practices mix in contemporary rituals.
There is no evidence whatsoever of the existence of an Easter bunny.