Easter: baskets, bunnies and eggs

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 26, 2005

Many an adult has fond childhood memories of receiving that Easter basket each spring, filled with bunnies of the edible marshmallow and chocolate variety, along with soft, stuffed ones in pastel shades you could enjoy cuddling all the year through.

You’d take your empty basket out again and again to hunt those colored eggs Mama or Grandma had hard- boiled, the scent of the vinegar used to dye them still clinging to their shells.

But where did the tradition of Easter eggs, baskets, and a bunny that makes home deliveries come about in the first place?

Eggs have long been associated with Easter time and go further back to pre-Christian spring celebrations. Eggs were painted with bright colors to celebrate spring, used in Easter egg rolling contests and given as gifts. In medieval times it was common for masters to give their servants decorated eggs as gifts. The egg was seen as a symbol of renewed life – making it a perfect symbol for the celebration of Easter.

Eggs around the world

Eggs have been decorated in a variety of ways by cultures all around the world.

Ukrainians use an elaborate wax-resist method that creates eggs that are no less than works of art, while in Greece, Easter eggs are dyed red to symbolize and honor the blood of Christ.

In Germany and Austria green eggs (but no ham) are traditionally given on Maundy Thursday – the day commemorating the Last Supper. In Slavic countries, metallic shades of gold and silver add luster to their Easter eggs.

Here comes Peter Cottontail…

The rabbit, that ever-fertile creature, also first became a symbol of life and renewal in the pre-Christian era. People from around the world – Asia, Europe, and in North America – have revered the hare for centuries as a messenger of a brand new season and new reason to hope for the future.

It was in Germany in the 1500s the first documented use of the bunny as a symbol for Easter appears. Not too surpisingly, the Germans were also the first to produce edible Easter bunnies in the 1800s.

In the 1700s, the children of Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants to the American colonies believed a magical rabbit called Oschter Haws would come and lay a nestful of brightly colored eggs at Easter if they had been good boys and girls.

A-tisket, a-tasket…

The idea of the Easter basket first began with an ancient Catholic custom of taking the food for Easter dinner to Mass to have it blessed. This practice mirrored an even older custom of bringing the first crops to the temple to insure a good growing season to come.

The widespread association of Easter Eggs with the Easter Bunny is a fairly recent phenomenon. It turns out to be the result of a savvy marketing campaign by European candy makers in the 19th century who wanted to advertise their sweet products – a plan that brought them sweet success. Today, brightly colored containers of straw, plastic and cloth, filled with sweets, toys and other small gifts are left for boys and girls across the land by that amazing bunny we now know as Peter Cottontail – a beloved modern Easter custom founded on traditions from long ago.

Happy Easter!