Inside the Collection

What’s the link between rabbits, eggs and Easter?

Children's Pop Up Easter book, 1950-1975
85/2600 Children’s Pop Up Easter book, 1950-1975. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The image above is a familiar one used to celebrate Easter, for many people a religious holiday. However some of its components such as Easter eggs, are linked to pagan traditions. The origins of the Easter bunny have been ascribed to a 13th-century, pre-Christian Germany, when people worshipped gods and goddesses. The Pagan deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held in her honour on the March equinox which marks the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere. The symbol of the rabbit or hare was chosen because of the animal’s high reproduction rate.

Photograph of Nesting Easter eggs
Nesting Easter eggs, designed to fit one inside the other in fashion of Russian dolls, wood / paint, maker unknown, 1890-1940. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The origin of Easter eggs is a European tradition of an egg-laying hare called in Germany “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws.” This tradition was brought to America by immigrants in the 1700s and children made nests in which this creature could lay its coloured eggs.

Easter eggs have had different cultural and decorative interpretations. From the Russian nested eggs above, a take on the matryoshka dolls to the painted Czechoslovakian eggs below.

Photograph of Eggs, decorated shells (10), Czechoslovakia, c. 1980
86/1094D Eggs, decorated shells (10), Czechoslovakia, c. 1980. Collection: Powerhouse Museum. Photograph Anni Turnbull.

Eventually, the custom spread to other countries like Australia and Easter treats grew to include chocolate and other types of lollies and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Children often left out carrots for the rabbit in case he got hungry from all his hopping.

Photograph of beaded Easter egg and chick, first prize ribbon Royal Easter Show 1976
A6896-9 Beaded Easter egg and chick, first prize ribbon Royal Easter Show 1976, and certificate, timber/glass/fabric/paper, made and won by Euronwy (Rene) Wilson, Cammeray, New South Wales, Australia, 1976. Collection Powerhouse Museum.

And of course in a particularly Australian way we recognise the importance of Easter by awarding prizes for themed displays at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. The egg, chick, entry details, first prize ribbon and certificate are all mounted on a fabric-covered base. The display, made in 1976 as a craft hobby, is one of ten tableaux in the Museum’s collection put together by Euronwy (Rene) Wilson (1898-1978)

Written by Anni Turnbull, Curator

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