More than an Easter Bunny: 5 Famous Rabbits From Around the World
By Heath Shive
1) Why do we have an Easter Bunny?
The use of an Easter bunny was formerly credited to the Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre. But the only surviving mention of this goddess is by the medieval historian the Venerable Bede - who doesn't associate a rabbit with her at all!
Ancient and medieval cultures around the world associated rabbits with springtime. Rabbits begin their mating season as early as February and continue to September. The rabbits would chase each other in courtship which - when combined with their large litter sizes - made rabbits a symbol of the growing fertility of the spring season.
The pagan symbolism of the rabbit was vouchsafed by the early Christian church.
But, the use of a rabbit who hides colored eggs for Easter is generally credited to the German Lutherans. Early Protestants - unlike old-school Catholics - didn't abstain from eating eggs during Lent.
Eggs were colored as apropos for the season. But while many ancient cultures decorated their eggs, it was the Germans who created the Osterhase, or what we call the Easter Bunny, a rabbit who brings colored eggs for children. The tradition was brought to America by German immigrants.
Sounds crazy? But rabbits are often thought of as crazy - which is why the British have an expression...
2) ...Mad as a March hare. Rabbits have an infamous fecundity - producing large litters after relatively short gestation periods. This hyperactive fertility can cause males to act strangely - running in circles and hopping vertically. Males can get too aggressive in the their courtship - which is why females often fight to protect themselves. A lawn full of fighting fertile rabbits? Rabbits would look crazy, hence "mad as a March hare."
The most famous March Hare is the character in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Many cultures didn't just think a rabbit was "mad," but instead was...
3) ...a masterful trickster.
The rabbit trickster is very common in Northern Native cultures, but he has a different name wherever you go. The rabbit trickster was called Glosscap by Eastern Native nations and Wisakedjak by the Cree farther west.
Nanabozho was a trickster spirit, a primordial deity born at the beginning of time. He was also a lying, stealing, and manipulative con-man too. Nanabozho could take many forms, but was a rabbit most frequently.
But the trickster rabbit was also famous in western and southern African cultures! The people of Senegal called him Leuk.
4) But we know him better as Br'er Rabbit, or Brother Rabbit.
Br'er Rabbit is the star of many of the Uncle Remus stories of the Old South. He outwits kings and peasants and every predator in the woods with his wits alone. Br'er Rabbit - like all tricksters - is morally ambiguous. He can be larcenous or heroic. But he always proves that even the physically small and weak can win - provided they have the wits.
Br'er Rabbit has fallen into disfavor in the current political climate, but...
5)...the trickster rabbit survives today as Bugs Bunny!
Bugs Bunny is the premier character of the Warner Brothers cartoon classics. Bugs is flippant, insouciant, and confident. Bugs is shown to be able to outsmart any of his antagonists - all of whom are trying to do Bugs harm. But while talking with a Brooklyn accent, and starting his repartee with a "What's up, doc?", Bugs always proves his nonchalant superiority and becomes the very model of cartoon "cool."
According to Guinness World Records, Bugs Bunny is the 9th most portrayed film personality in the world! Bugs even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.