How the humble rabbit became the Easter bunny
Ever wondered why rabbits are so often associated with Easter? Vet Marc Abraham enlightens you.
This Easter, most of us will be looking forward to getting some chocolate, perhaps in the shape of a bunny. But how did the rabbit become so inextricably linked with Easter tradition?
It's thought that the hunt for Easter eggs predates any association with the rabbit. But as a result of excited children searching for their eggs in long grass and inadvertently flushing out scared rabbits, the stories of rabbits leaving eggs behind began.
Historically, rabbits, hares and eggs were pagan fertility symbols signifying spring and new life, and the pagan goddess Eostre is usually depicted with a hare - which could lay colourful eggs to entertain eager children - as her symbolic animal. So when the Christians moved into pagan territories, they decided that these coloured eggs weren't harmful and adopted the custom into their own festivities.
Furthermore, German settlers arriving in the USA in the 18th century brought with them the legend of 'Oschter Haws', the white Easter Hare. Children would behave themselves, believing that if they were good, Oschter Haws would lay colourful eggs for them in nests made with their favourite hat or bonnet and placed out in the barn.
By the 19th century, the Easter Hare had become the Easter Rabbit, and American families would later also include the nest tradition - adding baskets, chocolates and occasionally money. Like most stateside traditions, they soon made their way to our shores.
The number of pet rabbits in the UK has been increasing for years, with fully litter-trained house rabbits now hugely popular nationwide. Sadly, like all cute, fluffy pets, many rabbits are impulse buys or gifts - so if you're considering buying a real-life Easter bunny, be prepared for years of looking after it responsibly.
Rabbits often make excellent companions but should never be treated as the 'classic children's pet'. They're extremely sensitive, intelligent creatures that require specific care including the correct diet, toys, bedding and housing. They also need regular visits to the vet for vaccinations against killer viral diseases such as myxomatosis, as well as regular teeth and weight checks.
The months following Easter often see neglected and unwanted bunnies being returned to pet shops, or even sent to rescue centres with little hope of adoption. So if you're considering getting a rabbit, please think carefully - you could even seek out a homeless rescue rabbit first and enjoy an even happier Easter together!
Marc Abraham is a TV vet who regularly gives the nation pet advice on This Morning, BBC Breakfast and Daybreak. As well as promoting responsible pet ownership, rescue pet adoption, microchipping and responsible dog breeding, Marc is also an active campaigner against the puppy farming industry and is the founder of Pup Aid. Marc has also written the books Vet on Call and Pets in Need and also has the Canine Care iPhone app for dog owners. For more about Marc, visit www.marcthevet.com or follow him on Twitter @marcthevet