We at Biopop may be artists and purveyors of super cool bioluminescent toys, but first and foremost, we are scientists. Specifically biologists. And as such, we are very aware of the means by which many of this planet’s organisms reproduce: Mammals are vivaporous (meaning they birth live, mostly-developed babies), chickens lay eggs, and dinoflagellates reproduce by asexual fission. We hope this isn’t too much information, but rest assured, the dinoflagellates in your very own Dino Pet are probably doing it right now!
All this to say, we don’t have much scientific ground to stand on when it comes to explaining to young, bright-eyed, curious children “why the Easter Bunny lays eggs.” We don’t (scientifically) know.
A mammal laying eggs is not unprecedented, of course. Take the platypus. It is one of only five living mammals known as “monotremes,”.or egg-laying mammals. The echidna family accounts for the other four monotremes.
So scientifically, the Easter Bunny is in good company amongst the monotremes. But the thing about historical myths and traditions is: science doesn’t often factor into the equation.
The “Easter Bunny” as a spring mascot came about long, long before the springtime tradition of filling wicker baskets with brightly-colored eggs. The Easter Bunny has been associated with eggs since as early as the 13th century, when egg decorating became prominent and feasts took place on the spring equinox to celebrate Eostre, the German goddess of fertility. Her symbol? The hare, of course! One old myth says that Eostre once found a bird in the early days of spring, shivering in the cold – so she turned it into a rabbit. However, this bunny was still able to lay eggs! I wonder what these olden-day Germans thought about Echidnas? The tale goes on: the newly-bunnified creature was so thankful to Eostre, that he decorated his eggs to honor her.
Sometime in the 1700s, German immigrants brought their legendary springtime egg-delivering rabbit – known as “Osterhase” – to America, and children quickly adopted it as a component of the Easter celebration. Children began making wicker “nests” for it to lay eggs in, and so a tradition was born.
OK, so the “Easter Bunny” probably came around before the “Easter Egg.” And we’re not just saying that because a poll at the National Confectioners’ Association said so. But it’s interesting to note that both of these symbols have been around for far, far longer than just the last millenium – though they weren’t directly connected prior to the legends of “Osterhase.” Rabbits are prolific reproducers, you see, so they have been representative of “fertility” and “springtime” since the earliest days of Antiquity. Records dating back as far as 2300 B.C. in Egypt show the hare being venerated for its more ‘mystical’ qualities and connection to spring. The egg though, was likely around for a bit longer in Persian cultures, predating Egyptian rabbit-worshipping by a few centuries.
So there you have it! The egg came first. Sorry Easter Bunny, but once again, slow and steady (and with direct and obvious connections to birth, fertility, and life, over the course of millenia, forcing itself into the cultural subconscious) wins the race!
Reading up on the Subject: