It begins with an egg-laying rabbit.
These days, baskets overflowing with candy and colorful eggs are as synonymous with Easter as Christmas trees are with Christmas. But marshmallow Peeps were just a twinkle in some brilliant businessman’s eye when Christians began celebrating Jesus’s resurrection centuries ago. Piles of candy and dyed eggs are a decidedly modern phenomenon. As for how they became associated with Easter, we have the Germans to thank.
Theories abound, but most experts agree that the word Easter derives from Eostre, a pagan goddess of spring and fertility.
“Many scholars believe that Easter had its origins as an early Anglo-Saxon festival that celebrated the goddess Eostre, and the coming of spring, in a sense a resurrection of nature after winter,” Carole Levin, Professor of History and Director of the Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program at the University of Nebraska, told Time. “Eggs were part of the celebration of Eostre. Apparently eggs were eaten at the festival and also possibly buried in the ground to encourage fertility.”
According to Anglo-Saxon folklore, Eostre found a bird dying from the cold and transformed it into a rabbit so its fur would keep it warm—but that rabbit still laid eggs like a bird.
WATCH Cute Easter Eggs That Look Like Your Favorite Fruits and Veggies:
This is where the baskets come in. Sometime around the early 1600s, German Protestants began believed (or simply telling their children) that a hare—a popular pagan symbol of fertility and springtime—would place colored eggs in improvised “nests”—bonnets, hats, baskets, etc.—they would leave out overnight. According to Chowhound, Osterhase (or Easter Hare) would lay the eggs, but only for well-behaved children.
Pennsylvania Dutch settlers later brought the tradition to America, where its popularity exploded during the Victorian era. Eventually, the Osterhase or Oschter Haws became the Easter Bunny, and the baskets became receptacles for candy, toys and plastic eggs that we so enjoy.