The Eostre Hare arrives!
In pagan times, the "Easter hare" was no ordinary animal, but a sacred companion of the goddess of spring, Eostre.
The Easter bunny has its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore. The Hare and the Rabbit were the most fertile animals known and they served as symbols of the new life during the spring season.
Since long before Christianity developed, parents told their children that the magic hare would bring them presents at the spring festival. The presents were often painted eggs, as these represented the new life starting at this time of year.
Hares are animals which look like rabbits, but are larger and in many countries quite rare. In most places, the Easter rabbit (bunny) has replaced the Easter hare completely.
The bunny was first used as a symbol of Easter in 16th century Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings. The first edible Easter bunnies, made primarily of pastry and sugar, were produced in Germany as well, during the early 1800s. Children made nests of grass and placed them in their yards, believing the Easter Bunny would fill these baskets with brightly decorated eggs during the night. With any luck, their parents knew where they placed these nests the day before.
The Easter bunny was introduced to American folklore by the German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s. The arrival of the "Oschter Haws" was considered "childhood's greatest pleasure" next to a visit from Christ-Kindel on Christmas Eve. The children believed that if they were good the "Oschter Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs.
Thus the custom of making nests also spread to America. Children would build their 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 through out the country.