Easter, a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is closely associated with the arrival of spring. Easter is observed on the Sunday that follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the day on which day and night are the same lengths. Celebrating the return of the sun and the start of the growing season has been important in many cultures for millennia. The tradition of filling Easter baskets with eggs and candy likely originates from the cultural practices of several groups celebrating spring.
The Vernal Equinox
The vernal equinox on March 21 has brought hope to agricultural societies for a long time. The return of more sunlight banishes cold winter weather and signals the start of a season of rebirth and renewal: crops can be planted, livestock give birth and people are reassured that they will be able to feed their families for another year. Several ancient cultures prayed to various gods for successful agricultural yields, and many brought baskets of their harvest to religious sites to be blessed.
In several ancient Middle Eastern cultures, including the Hebrews, Babylonians and Assyrians, it was customary to bring the first seedlings from the fields to temples for a blessing. The modern tradition of filling Easter baskets with signs of spring reflects these early farmers’ efforts to honor the gods with their crops and ensure a successful growing season. These ancient farmers used the first full moon after the equinox as a guide for planting crops, and that date is still used to mark the modern celebration of Easter.
Easter is the culmination of a long Christian season of celebration and reverence. For 40 days prior to Easter, many Christians choose something to go without for Lent. Food, such as meat, eggs or dairy, is usually chosen for this fasting period. The large feast typically served on Easter celebrates the end of this fast and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In early Christian times, the Easter feast was served in the churches. Food was brought to churches in large baskets and blessed by the clergy before being served. Easter baskets filled with treats originated from this tradition of bringing baskets to church on Easter.
Eggs are included in Easter baskets as symbols of spring, fertility and birth. This tradition originated in the Netherlands, where children would deliver eggs on Easter Sunday in small birds' nests. Most modern Easter baskets are filled with Easter grass instead of nests and plastic eggs filled with chocolate instead of fresh eggs, but the tradition of putting eggs in an Easter basket has existed in some form for thousands of years.