By Lia Blanchard
Eggs, rabbits, flowers – these Easter symbols are signs of fertility and spring, birth and rebirth. We get that. But where does the Easter basket come in?
A time of gathering and blessing
Around the time of the vernal equinox, as new life awakened in the earth around them, ancient Germanic people paid homage to the fertility goddess Ēostre. She was often depicted as carrying a basket of eggs, and was associated with the rabbit – known for its prolific reproduction.
Peoples of the Middle East would bring baskets of seedlings from early crops to their temples to receive a blessing for a successful harvest later in the year. This was done at a major planting time – after the first full moon after the spring equinox – when Easter is observed today.
Early Roman Catholics – who often gave up meat, eggs, and dairy for Lent – would pack a large Easter feast in baskets and bring it to mass on Easter to receive a blessing before eating.
Modern gift baskets
German immigrants to the United States brought with them tales and customs of the Osterhase – the Easter Hare – who would deliver brightly colored eggs and candy to the “nests” children had made in baskets or bonnets.
American children today also enjoy eggs and candy in “nests” of grass. Toys are also common basket stuffers, and becoming more so as the problem of childhood allergies and obesity increases.
Many of us have fond memories of Easter mornings spent hunting for hidden eggs, clutching an Easter basket in our hands. Can you recall any particular favorites?