Although the basket has come to be regarded as a symbol of Easter, it is also a symbol of spring. The meaning or symbolism of the Easter basket extends far beyond a simple array of goodies and treats that fill a basket. Since spring is the traditional symbol for new life, rebirth and renewal, the basket has taken on the symbolism of spring as well.
Whether the meaning is related to the renewal and rebirth of spring, or the celebration of the end of Lent, the significance of the Easter basket is so significant that it has endured throughout many hundreds of years of history. As the Christian church began to evolve, Christian customs began to replace the old Pagan customs. Consequently, Pagan customs were blended with Christian tradition, or they disappeared altogether.
*Historical significance of baskets in spring -
Historically, it was customary to take baskets that were filled with early seedlings to Eostre (or Oestre,) the fertility goddess, to improve chances for a good harvest. According to some legends, Eostre, the fertility goddess also carried a basket of eggs.
The Easter basket symbolizes new life, rebirth and renewal. The ritual of the Easter basket proper comes from German folklore about the Easter hare. According to the German legend, a white hare would leave Easter baskets that were filled with candies, brightly colored eggs and other goodies. On Easter morning, the kids would come to find their baskets and devour their goodies.
*Christian theory on the origin of the Easter basket -
There is another theory about Easter baskets that suggests that they developed out of Christian lent observances which required abstinence from meat, eggs and dairy products. There is also another Christian custom that is related to this, and that is the tradition of having a large Easter dinner to break the Lenten fast.
It is thought that in ancient times, it was customary for church goers to bring a basket filled with foods that were to be eaten at the Easter dinner later that day, to church so that the contents of the baskets could be blessed by the clergy. This is thought to be the connection to the Easter basket of today.
Once people returned home, emptied the baskets of their contents and ate their Easter meal, children would appropriate the empty baskets and take them with them when they went to hunt eggs. It is believed that the idea of filling an Easter basket with goodies may have originated from this practice of filling the basket with brightly colored Easter eggs for which children would hunt.
*German immigration to the U.S. -
When German settlers came to the United States, it is thought that they brought the tradition of the Easter hare with them. Eventually, the Easter hare became the Easter bunny, and the Easter bunny would bring baskets to children that were filled with eggs, chocolates, jelly beans, candies and other goodies and leave them for the children on Easter morning.
*German colonists -
During the 1700's, German children whose families had immigrated to North America left their caps and bonnets outside their door the night before Easter after filling them with straw. The next morning, the children would go to the door to find that their hats were filled with brightly colored hard boiled eggs. By the 1800's, candy was also included in the Easter baskets.
The egg joined the ideas of birth, rebirth and the renewal of the earth. The egg also became a symbol in Christian Easter celebrations. Eggs were painted and decorated so that they could be given to others as gifts.
*Contemporary Easter baskets -
Easter baskets have adopted many traditions of the past. Those traditions include chicks, eggs, grass and rabbits, all of which have symbolic meanings and have become part of the gifts that are included in the present day Easter basket.
Present day Easter baskets that are already assembled can be purchased at retailers everywhere. Some people prefer to put their own Easter basket together, and by doing so, they can create a much more personalized Easter basket. Today, the Easter basket is less a symbol of the Easter holiday itself than it is a symbol of spring. Nonetheless, children all over the world continue to enjoy the tradition of the Easter basket, and the grownups who give children these Easter baskets often go to great pains to make sure that the Easter baskets are as fun, festive and special as possible.