March 31, 2013

What's in a Basket?

So I wanted to share a little Easter history with everyone but I wanted to do something a little different than just focus on the pagan origins of the holiday itself. Often people focus on the origin of the name of the holiday, etc. I thought instead, it would be interesting to take a look at the common tradition of the Easter Basket. There have been many cultural adaptations and interpretations of this custom, but all somewhat related.

What are the origins of giving baskets of fake grass, eggs and candy? Why a basket? 

It was an ancient pagan custom that in the spring, people would offer baskets of seedlings to the fertility goddess Eostre (or Oestre) hoping to increase the chances of a good harvest. Also the goddess Eostre was often depicted carrying eggs in a basket, signifying fertility and new life. 

The basket was used to symbolize a bird’s nest so people would decorate it to resemble one even more by adding a bed of grass to the bottom. Then, eggs would be added to the nested basket to look more realistic. 

These ideas, among others, were adopted by the early Catholic Church. For instance, it was also traditional for people to fast before the Spring Equinox. By doing this, they hoped to redirect their energy into the seedlings so that the harvest would be more successful. This was an idea that inspired Lent. After a long fast during Lent, Easter offered a welcome feast to celebrate its passing. This desire to celebrate by feasting on previously abstained goodies led to the basket tradition. 

The Christian adaptation of the Easter Basket revolved around the custom of Blessing the Family Baskets. This is when every family would bring a basket of food that they had commonly abstained from during Lent, to Mass on Easter Sunday. It would then be blessed for an Easter feast. In the basket would be items such as red wine, salted meats like ham, dairy, eggs, and eventually candy. This tradition is still observed in more Orthodox households. It is sometimes called the Pascha or Paschal Basket. 

The more commercialized Easter baskets of today have ditched the religiously symbolic foods in favor of just eggs and/or candy, as the world has become more secularized (and sugar loving!). Still, many families will spend today feasting and observing the joy and new life of the spring season, provided to the world by the glory and miracle of the risen son/sun. 

Happy Easter!!!!!

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