Where Did the Idea of Easter Baskets Come From, Anyway?

published Apr 21, 2019
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I’m 27 and my mom still gives me an Easter basket every year. When I make it home before zooming off to my cousins’ house for a massive “Greekster” celebration (lamb on the spit and all), my sister (who’s 31) and I are both showered with little surprises in colorful baskets as though we haven’t aged at all. As I’ve gotten older, the presents themselves matter less than the love my mom still puts into them—they’re part of our family history. But the history of the Easter basket itself, it turns out, goes even further back.

A little research quickly led me to realize that the tradition has nothing to do with the religious part of the holiday—although that probably doesn’t come as a huge shock considering the basket is delivered by a fictional bunny. But why a basket? Why not a clay pot, or a tray? The answer is a simple one: The decorated baskets are meant to replace the nests which rabbits lay their eggs in, according to History.com.

The explanation behind the bunny who delivers the basket, however, isn’t as simple. For starters, there isn’t a definitive one. The strongest theory, however, says that the importance dates back to the festival of Eostre: A pagan tradition that celebrated the goddess of fertility who had the rabbit as her animal symbol. Historians claim that rabbits have traditionally symbolized fertility, which makes sense due to their fast-natured breeding.

The earliest mention of the Easter Bunny was in a scientific publication printed in 1682 by a German physician named Georg Franck von Franckenau. He wrote that it’s a common practice for children to search for “Easter eggs” that they believed were left by the “Easter Hare,” or the Osterhase. And when German immigrants traveled to America in the 1700s, they brought this fictional character with them, introducing a narrative that is now so deeply integrated into our celebration of Easter.

This connects the rabbit back to the basket, creating a “nest” for what’s traditionally placed inside. Eggs are said to be symbolic of life, as well as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The symbolism for chocolate eggs, in particular, dates back to the nineteenth century. (Also, while this isn’t necessarily fact, Catholics do often give up chocolate during lent.)

All of the various shapes and scales of these sugary treats came later on in the early 1900s, when innovations in the candy industry allowed for rabbits, chickens, and nests. You name it, they molded it. Popularity spiked, cementing candy-filled baskets as an American Easter tradition. Today, the presents will vary from home to home—mine, for example, will be loaded up with Dunkin’ gift cards and packets of gum (thanks, Mom).