“Here comes Peter Cottontail

“Hoppin' down the bunny trail

“Hippity hoppin', Easter's on its way”

The lyrics to “Peter Cottontail” and seasonal decorations with fluffy bunnies may have you scratching your head, wondering what rabbits have to do with a Christian holy day.

The rabbit's penchant for procreation established it as a springtime and Easter icon.

Rabbits and hares symbolize fertility. Rabbits are able to breed at a young age and have large litters and a short gestation, which allows them to reproduce rapidly. Hares are able to conceive a second litter while pregnant with the first.

Hares were sacred to the Saxon goddess of spring and had a prominent place in the vernal equinox festivities. Early Christians seeking converts merged holy days with pre-existing cultural celebrations, and the hare became part of the Easter festivities.

Because the rabbit is more common in the United States, the hare lost the top spot to his smaller cousin, Peter Cottontail.

Source: Hester E. Oberman, who teaches psychology of religion at the UA, 2012