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There are some who believe it originated with Lewis Carroll's �Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' and others who claim it derives from a German custom of pagan times when pairs of white rabbits were sacrificed at the beginning of months for luck.
However, this is one of these things with an air of the historic about it which it does not truly deserve. The "tradition" of saying these particular words on the first of a month for luck is, at most perhaps, about a century old, despite the idea that sacred rabbits existed in much earlier times.
yes, it's a reminder that although a dictionary may cite the earliest known use of a word, that will be the earliest written use - the word may well have been in existence long before that. Shakespeare is often credited with coining hundreds of words, but who's to say he hadn't heard them all in conversation previously, spoken by people who didn't write them down in plays?
Interesting incidentally birdie that nobody seems to have heard the 'fox and rabbit' variation in your original question - so perhaps you'll go into the OED as the original source for that phrase.
well, 1958-9 were the years of myxomatosis
which killed a large proportion of little bunnies. - I remember one rabbit coming out of a hedgerow and keeling over at my feet. It was a bit like the descriptions of rat-fall at the beginning of a plague epidemic.
and my oldmum did say we had to say rabbit rabbits rabits to do our bit to restore the bunny population.