THE Easter bunny is known as the Easter hare in European traditions. Hares were given ritual burials alongside humans during the Neolithic age in Europe which archaeologists interpret as a religious ritual, with hares representing rebirth.
During the Iron Age, ritual burials for hares were common, and in 51 B.C.E. Britain, Julius Caesar noted that hares were not eaten due to their religious significance; he’d have known that in the Greek tradition, hares were sacred to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
Hares are specifically connected to Easter in English and German folk traditions. Accounts from 1600s Germany describe children hunting for Easter eggs hidden by the Easter hare. At the same time, written accounts from England mention the Easter hare, particularly in terms of traditional Easter hare hunts and eating hare meat at Easter.
In various Easter traditions eating hares was associated with scaring away witches. The northern hemisphere’s spring equinox, with its promise of new life, was held symbolically in opposition to the life-draining activities of witches and winter.
Osterfeuer, or Easter Fire, is a celebration in Germany involving large outdoor bonfires to scare away witches. In Swedish folklore, at Easter witches fly away on their broomsticks to feast and dance with the devil on the legendary island of Blåkulla, in the Baltic Sea.
In eighth-century England, the month of April was called Eosturmonath, or Eostre Month, after the goddess Eostre. The pagan spring festival for the goddess assimilated into the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ.