Local Lifestyle

The Easter Bunny and Easter Parade are long-standing holiday traditions

by Kate Evans

Everyone knows the song, “Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail” that reminds us that “Easter’s on its way.”  But how did we end up with a rabbit that’s sometimes dressed in clothing carrying a basket of eggs and goodies as a symbol for the religious holiday of Easter?

Symbol of spring, fertility

The hare was a popular medieval theme, occasionally appearing in paintings of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus and the Holy Trinity. Hares and rabbits were prolific in their reproduction and became symbols of fertility.  They were also associated with spring and the renewal of all things.

Some writers allegedly connected the Easter Bunny or Easter Hare to Ēostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and dawn,  but extensive research has shown that there is no evidence of this.  Only one writer mentions Ēostre and doesn’t connect her to any specific animal, says the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore.

A Santa-like figure

Apparently the Easter Bunny or the Easter Hare became a figure that judged children’s behavior from the beginning of the Easter season.  He decided whether they’d been good or disobedient or were worthy of presents, much like Santa Claus’ naughty or nice list at Christmas.

According to legend, the Easter Bunny carried colored eggs, candy and sometimes toys in his basket and brought them to children’s homes the night before the Easter holiday. Children would put small baskets or hats around their house and hope for eggs or other gifts to be placed in them by the Easter Bunny.

The custom is said to be derived from a German tradition of an Easter Hare bringing eggs for kids.  The tradition was first  reported in the late 1600’s.

Eating eggs wasn’t permitted during the Lenten fast in medieval Europe.  Children would go door-to-door begging for eggs before the Lenten fast began and people would give them eggs as treats.

Various Easter traditions and customs are celebrated around the world, ranging from Easter egg hunts, the Easter lily and sunrise services to communal dancing, Easter foods, women wearing Easter bonnets and the Easter Parade.

Easter candy favorites include colored jelly beans, chocolate eggs and yellow marshmallow peeps.  Solid and hollow chocolate bunnies of various sizes became featured mainstays in Easter baskets in homes on Easter morning.

Easter lilies are originally from Japan and came to the United States by way of England during World War I.  They are the unofficial Easter flower and symbolize hope and rebirth.

The Easter Parade

New York City’s Easter Parade tradition began in the mid-1800s when upper society members would go to Easter church services along Fifth Avenue and then stroll outside when services were over, displaying their new spring outfits and hats, according to History.com. Regular folks began coming to Fifth Avenue to watch the fashion show.

The Easter Parade gala reached its heights in the late 1940s and the movie “Easter Parade” with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland came out in 1948.  It featured the music of Irving Berlin and his famous song “Easter Parade” that had the lyrics “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade….”

New York City and other cities across the United States still host Easter Parades. Parade participants often wear fancily decorated bonnets and hats. Scholars note that Easter processions have long been a part of the celebration of the Easter holiday.