Easter celebrations, long favored by pagans, were incorporated into Christianity by early Christians who celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ at the same time pagan worshipers were celebrating the bounty of spring and fertility in general. The pagan traditions became intermingled with Christian beliefs from that point, and various additions to the holiday were made through the centuries--including that of the familiar and calorie-laden Easter basket.
Eostre, Ishtar or Oestre
Eostre, goddess of fertility and rebirth, was honored by pagan worshipers every spring and was often presented with a basket of eggs because spring meant new growth and new life. Baskets of tender seedlings were taken to temples as a spring offering to the goddess in the hopes of being blessed with a good harvest.
An old Catholic custom of using baskets during Easter to carry Easter foods to mass for blessing goes back to the baskets of seedlings offered to Eostre in ancient temples.
The "Oschter Haw" or Easter Hare
German legend holds that a white Easter hare would visit children and fill Easter bonnets, or (caps for boys) left out the night before with colored eggs, candy and other goodies for children to discover on Easter morning. Similar to the tradition of Santa Claus, only good children would be rewarded with a filled Easter bonnet.
The Easter Hare Comes to America
When Germans immigrated to America during the 1700s, they brought their Easter legends with them. The Easter Hare became the Easter Bunny, and baskets soon replaced bonnets and caps.
The grass inside Easter Baskets stems from the "nests" Dutch and German children would make using their bonnets and caps. As the holiday became driven by consumerism in the United States, Easter grass and Easter baskets were mass-produced from plastic.
- Child with an Easter basket (www.publicdomainpictures.net)