The history of the Easter Basket, actually has pagan roots. Ancient farmers depended on their livestock and crops for a living, so the spring equinox was a special time in their cultures. The spring equinox is a time when day and night are of equal length, and it was a signal that the long harsh winter was over and that spring a time of renewal and rebirth was at hand. To celebrate the season, farmers prayed to various gods for fertile fields. Middle Eastern cultures, had a spring tradition of celebrating the first seedlings of their new crops. They brought the seedlings in baskets to temples for a blessing, to pray that their gods would continue to bless the crops for rest of the year.
The use of Easter baskets as we know them today developed from more modern Christian symbols. During Lent, which lasts for 40 days before Easter, many Christians abstain from certain foods or treats until Easter comes. The tradition of feasting on a large Easter meal symbolizes the end of Lenten fasting. In earlier times, this Easter feast was brought in large baskets to church to be blessed by priests, in much the same way as ancient cultures brought their first seedlings to be blessed in temples.
Childhood Memories of Easter Baskets
Ida LeClair lives in Mahoosuc Mills, a small town in western Maine, with her husband, Charlie and their little dog, Scamp. As a child, it is so exciting to wake up to basket filled with goodies on Easter morning. From her childhood in 1967, she recalls her happiest memories of Easter, looking for what the bunny has brought her the night before.
“I love it when Easter comes in April. Yes, it’s nice to have a holiday in March, but too many times that means cold and snow, which is disappointing. Easter is about daffodils, bunnies and sunshine. It’s about eating too much ham and scalloped potatoes and way too much chocolate.”
“Back when I was a kid, I prayed for a beautiful spring Easter day. Not so the Easter Bunny wouldn’t have to hop, hop, hop through the snow. No, I prayed for good weather so I could wear my new Easter dress with white ankle socks or tights, white patent leather shoes, my pink Easter coat (my sister Irene’s was identical, but blue), white straw hat with fake flowers and white gloves—all brand, spanking new. Oh, and new underwear, too. I almost forgot about that. I hardly slept the night before, hoping the weather would cooperate. That’s how excited I was to wear my new clothes. Irene and I would lay out our new stuff the night before.”
“When we woke up that morning, there’d be a trail of jelly beans from our bed to our Easter baskets in the living room. This is back in the days before Ronald Reagan made jelly beans famous, and they started coming in exotic flavors. When I was a kid, the black jelly beans (which were my favorite) still tasted like licorice. All the others tasted like cheap perfume, but we ate them anyway. Early on, our Easter baskets were loaded up with lots of that shredded, pastel cellophane, and nestled on top were Hershey’s chocolate eggs wrapped in brightly colored aluminum foil, chocolate bunnies and stuffed toy rabbits.”
“As we got older, the stuffed toys were replaced by barrettes, Jacks, and Mickey Mouse Pez dispensers, then with mascara, eye shadow, and our favorite perfume. Except at our grandparents’ houses, where the baskets (our second and third of the day) were always full of good old-fashioned chocolate goodies. One year, my grandmother gave us each a solid milk chocolate rabbit. The thing must have weighed about a pound or two. It took Irene and me a couple of weeks to finish ours off. I don’t know how we did it, but somehow we managed. Even after we were too old for Easter baskets, we’d find a big, honking Russell Stover Vanilla or Coconut Cream Egg at the family table Easter morning. Mom, Dad, Irene and I would start chipping away at our egg before breakfast, one little slice at a time. We’d each try to save some of our egg until Monday, but by dinnertime, we’d be done. Sure, it made us nauseous, but it was the good kind of nauseous, you know, from eating too many sweets. Marshmallow Peeps are strangely missing from my memory. I guess we figured, why waste our time on fluorescent colored sugar when we can have chocolate?”
Source: Ida LeClair