The egg-laying rabbit and the egg painting
The precise origin of the ancient custom of decorating eggs is not known, although evidently the blooming of many flowers in spring coincides with the use of the fertility symbol of eggs—and eggs boiled with some flowers change their color, bringing the spring into the homes. Many Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day typically dye their Easter eggs red, the color of blood, in recognition of the blood of the sacrificed Christ (and, of the renewal of life in springtime). Some also use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the long dead time of winter.
German Protestants wanted to retain the Catholic custom of eating colored eggs for Easter, but did not want to introduce their children to the Catholic rite of fasting. Eggs were forbidden to Catholics during the fast of Lent, which was the reason for the abundance of eggs at Easter time.
The idea of an egg-laying bunny came to the U.S. in the 18th century. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the “Osterhase” (sometimes spelled “Oschter Haws.“Hase” means “hare”, not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the “Easter Bunny” indeed is a hare, not a rabbit. According to the legend, only good children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their caps and bonnets before Easter. In 1835, Jakob Grimm wrote of long-standing similar myths in Germany itself. Grimm suggested that these derived from legends of the reconstructed continental Germanic goddess *Ostara.
In Britain, the hare was associated with the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre and whose pagan attributes were appropriated into the Christian tradition as the Easter Bunny. The hare also appears in English folklore in the saying “as mad as a March hare” and in the legend of the White Hare that alternatively tells of a witch who takes the form of a white hare and goes out looking for prey at night or of the spirit of a broken-hearted maiden who cannot rest and who haunts her unfaithful lover.
In Irish folklore, the hare is often associated with Sidh (Fairy) or other pagan elements. In these stories, characters who harm hares often suffer dreadful consequences.
In England, America on the other hand adults hide eggs in the garden and the children need to hunt them.
Many cultures, including the Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican, see a hare in the pattern of dark patches in the moon; this tradition forms the basis of the Angelo Branduardi song “The Hare in the Moon”.
The hare was a popular motif in medieval church art. In ancient times it was widely believed that the hare was a hermaphrodite. The idea that a hare could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary, with hares sometimes occurring in Northern European paintings of the Virgin and Christ Child.
The hare was regarded as an animal sacred to Aphrodite and Eros because of its high libido. Live hares were often presented as a gift of love.