My favourite theory about the origin of the Easter Bunny is this one, which I found in a wonderful book called The Leaping Hare, by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson.
‘Some images have their origin in the observation of nature, and that may be true of the Easter hare. Birds, like the plover, that make nests on the ground lay their eggs near the hares’ forms. They may even choose a deserted form and convert it. Their eggs and baby leverets are frequently found on the same terrain in spring.’ (p134)
I love this idea of spotting hares nosing about in old forms (the sort of dent, or seat, a hare makes in a field, to lay low in) where there might now be plover, or lapwing, eggs.
In a separate section of the book, we’re given a wonderful transcript of conversations with a warrener and gamekeeper named Percy Muitt. He was born in Blythburgh, Suffolk in 1909 and worked nearby. (Incidentally, Blythburgh church now has a special animal blessing service at Easter, where pets are brought along. When I attended, one girl brought a spider in a match box to be blessed.)
Percy Muitt gives many vivid accounts of hares, and here’s the part that supports the ‘observation of nature theory’:
‘Well, I go about: I’ve done nothing else all my life only wandered about here, and I fell in with these little leverets; and I’ve seen ‘em as I’ve looked for plovers’ eggs. I’ve seen two little leverets on an owd stubble, on an owd corn-stubble. They make little seats just like their mothers do, just backed in, you know. Before I left that field there was a tremendous storm; and I was back on to this field after this heavy storm because I thought they must be dead; and there they set – just the same; and everywhere was all over water. I saw these little owd chaps there and I said to myself: “Well, they can’t survive.” (but we used to look at the field every four days, so we used to look at ‘em twice at that time o’day, look at ‘em twice to pick these owd plovers’ eggs up, years ago.) They’d moved two hundred yards away, and they’d grown. They were four or five days old, nice little chaps; they were alive and well’. (p55)
An old-fashioned egg hunt with baby hares all about, and nice little chaps too. It’s certainly an image that’s hard to resist. I wonder what Percy Muitt would have made of chocolate eggs wrapped in foil and cartoon bunnies everywhere…