The history of Easter gifts has a long and fascinating history. Gifting is tied to the holiday known as Easter, and ancient Pagan rituals focused at this time of year upon the renewal of the earth, the upcoming green new growth that the emerging sunlight and warmer weather encouraged, and the idea of birth and rebirth. The egg is a symbol of all of these ideas, and was adopted by and still is used in Christian Easter celebrations to this day.
To start, eggs were painted and decorated and used as gifts. They were given as a romantic gift to admirers, as well as to servants and children. People of Eastern Orthodox faiths made this tradition their own by dying their eggs red to symbolize Christ’s blood, and on Easter day they would crack the eggs, to represent Christ breaking out of the tomb. As technology improved, there were hollow eggs crafted from cardboard that were filled with smaller gifts, typically food items. Hollow eggs were also formed from sugar, and were decorated with sugar royal icings. Perhaps the ultimate gift egg was the Faberg egg, which was studded with real jewels and was given originally as a gift for the Czar of Russia. Around this time chocolate easter eggs were created, and soon became a favorite holiday tradition. As an extension of the egg, the chick was also associated with Easter, and today children will often find marshmallow chicks as a gift that was linked to the original prominence of the egg in the Easter celebration.
Another type of gift you will likely find in modern Easter baskets are rabbits, usually in the form of a toy stuffed rabbit or rabbit-shaped candies and chocolates. This tradition also traces back to early Pagan traditions. Rabbits are known for their ability to reproduce, and this idea of birth, especially in early spring when rabbits tend to give birth to their young, helped to tie them as yet another symbol of this holiday season.
Clothing was sometimes associated as an Easter gift. In the early Catholic tradition, if the faithful were baptized the night before Easter Sunday, they wore white robes for Easter week. If they were baptized before this night, then they got to wear new clothes. Everyone wearing their robes or new clothes could then take part in an Easter parade, which was a walk after mass on Easter Day.
Because of the association with a new growth cycle, gifts from the garden are also connected to Easter. Easter lilies are often given as gifts because they bloom around the time Easter is celebrated.
Easter baskets in early times contained gifts to the goddess Oestre in the hopes that she would grant a good harvest. Eggs were often collected in baskets as well. German legend of an Easter hare, later changed to rabbit, which would bring a basket filled with sweets and colored eggs to children on Easter morning, was brought to America by early German settlers, and the practice continues to this day.