An Ode to Easter baskets

An Ode to Easter baskets

For as long as they’ve been around—which is almost as long as we’ve been around—baskets have been essential to community and represent life, abundance and potential. The baskets at Closed Mondays are made with care to hold pieces of our lives: plants, toys, collections, notes. With that in mind, and in the spirit of abundance, we have decided to dedicate some time to studying the history of basketmaking across the world!

Our first dive into basket history is more of a bunny hop: Easter baskets!

If you participate in Western traditions: you’ve seen them; you’ve gifted them; you’ve found them on the foot of your bed full of chocolates, toys and eggs. Easter baskets today represent a huge industry at the intersection of Christianity and capitalism (in 2016, Easter related sales reached $680 million); but their history is rich and deeply connected to the seasons. In order to explore these often-woven delights, it is necessary to take a brief detour into Easter’s maybe-pagan roots. Yes, Easter has maybe-pagan roots! If you squint at most other Christian holidays, you’ll find the same is true. According to the seventh-century historian Bede, the name derives from a Germanic fertility goddess named “Eostre.” The thing with seventh-century historian Bede is that no one was around to check him. It’s more likely that the holiday itself came from Passover. Furthermore, moving even further back in history; Hebrews, Assyrians, Babylonians, and folks from all over the Middle East celebrated Spring and the first seedlings of their new crops.

All of these traditions connect, one throughline being spring: life bursting forth, freedom from winter and other plagues, rebirth. Seedling celebrations involved bringing the small plantings to the temple in baskets, for blessings. As far as Germanic traditions go, as Paganism melded with Christianity, baskets and Easter intertwined. Easter baskets emerged as symbolic nests for eggs and rabbits, which were in turn symbols of spring and fertility. German Protestants told their children that a hare would bring colored eggs and place them in bonnets or baskets left outside overnight. In time, they became nests for children’s easter eggs, their prizes after running around with a delightfully singular purpose. These grew popular in the US, the UK and Australia, but other places had different uses for Easter baskets. In many Eastern European countries, folks bring baskets full of bread, sausage, and horseradish (okay, and eggs and candy too) to church for blessings. Just like the Babylonians!

It is wonderful to imagine baskets as little nests for spring, and coming out in springs past as well; filled with gifts and fruit and seeds. Though Easter is definitely an industry; the idea that we share growth and rebirth with each other is an encouraging and beautiful one. Further, that baskets—just like traditions—can endure in their own way. We hope that your Closed Mondays baskets will have a home with you and yours for many springs to come.