No matter how many times I thumb through the Bible, I can’t seem to find the story of the happy little bunny who delivers colorfully decorated eggs to all of the well-mannered children on Easter Sunday. So what the heck does the Easter bunny have to do with Christianity’s most significant holiday?
Rabbits are known to be prolific procreators. In fact, it’s possible for large litter breeds to produce nearly 100 babies per year; and with an average lifespan of 9 to 12 years, a single rabbit could produce up to 1,000 babies. Yes, I said prolific procreators! Based on this notoriety, rabbits have long been a symbol of fertility and new life – which gives us our first clue of their relationship to Easter.
It’s long been suggested that the Easter bunny originated with the Germans. The folkloric figure “Osterhase” would determine whether children were good or bad at the start of Eastertide (Easter Season). Only the well-behaved children received colored eggs. The eggs were “laid” in the child’s cap or bonnets before Easter.
Like many other present day traditions, German immigrants brought the “Osterhase” with them when they immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1700s. The tradition of Easter morning egg deliveries soon spread across America. Over time, decorated baskets replaced caps and bonnets, and eggs were complimented with chocolates, candy, toys, and other knickknacks.
The egg has long been a symbol of new life; and in ancient times, pagan festivals used eggs to symbolize and celebrate the start of Spring. The relationship between Christianity and the egg can be traced back to the custom of abstaining from eggs during the Lenten season. To preserve the eggs during Lent, they were boiled or roasted, then decorated and eaten on Easter. Similar to pagan practices in ancient times, Christians view eggs as a representation of new life – specifically the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb.
Peeps, PEZ, Cadbury Eggs, and Jelly Beans; after Halloween, Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday in America. Popularized in early 19th century Europe, the most popular Easter treats are chocolate eggs. Chocolate molds from the 19th and 20th century have become very popular among collectors today.
Dependent on size, condition, and maker, collectors can expect to pay anywhere from $10 for an egg mold, up to thousands of dollars for super-sized rabbit molds. A quick search for “Vintage Chocolate Molds” on eBay or a visit to Victorian Chocolate Molds, one can find some really intriguing molds.
For reasons unbeknownst to this author, the sugary, marshmallow confection Peeps, has long been the top-selling non-chocolate Easter candy. Long produced by Pennsylvania based candy manufacture, Just Born, these sugary “chicks” were introduced to world in the 1950s. The owner of the company, Sam Born, displayed a sign in his store window that told everyone passing by that his freshly-made confections were “Just Born.” It’s also an obvious play on his last name.
Another egg-shaped candy, the jelly bean, has been associated with Easter since the 1930s. Its origins are rooted in a biblical-era candy, Turkish Delight. Made of soft jelly covered in confectioner’s powder, Turkish Delight was the inspiration behind the jelly bean’s gummy interior. If you would like to get a sugar rush of biblical proportions, check out Nory Candy Company.
Notorious for becoming easily bored, children demanded more than eggs on Easter. The Easter bunny capitulated and started adding toys to Easter morning baskets. Wind-up tin lithograph toys and small bisque dolls tucked-away inside decorated eggs are some of the most sought after Easter toys for collectors today.
Tin toys date back to the early 1800s. Made of thin sheets of steel that were hand-formed, coated with tin, and then hand painted. The earliest toys were produced in Germany, which introduced the first wind-up models in the 1850s. Popular wind-up toys range from vehicles to popular cartoon characters and animals that walk or jump.
Not as commonplace today, Easter bisque dolls have become a popular collectible with cross-over appeal. German, French, and American companies placed small bisque (and later, hard plastic) dolls into ornately decorated Easter eggs. Often dressed as the Easter bunny; or accompanied by one, the dolls were neatly nestled inside an egg. Due to the intricate designs, fragility of the egg and doll, and overall craftsmanship, these Easter collectibles can fetch hefty prices.
Collectibles help us recall and relive enjoyable memories of our past. Easter is no different. Whether you help your children color eggs, or stuff their Easter baskets with sugary sweets and toys, there are many different ways to make this Easter a memorable one. However you choose to celebrate this Easter, just remember what those eggs symbolize – new life!