- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Good girls and boys are eagerly awaiting a visit from the Easter bunny this weekend, hoping the rabbit will be carrying a basket filled with surprises.

“Easter is a time of year people get together to celebrate,” says Erica Lapidus, head of public relations and promotions at Godiva Chocolatier Inc. in New York City. “Looking inside an Easter basket is a fun experience for all ages.”

Apart from receiving presents from Old St. Nick in a Christmas stocking, finding a basket full of candies from the Easter bunny is a favorite treat for many children. With the arrival of spring, baskets are popping up all over as many adults use them to decorate and organize their homes.

Rabbits have been associated with spring celebrations long before modern advertising schemes, historians

say. Anglo-Saxons celebrated the pagan festival of Eastre, a “goddess of the dawn,” whose symbol was the rabbit. Since the animal is extremely fertile, many people considered it a sign of new life.

Because the festival of Eastre took place during the same season in which the resurrection of Christ is celebrated, Christians appropriated the holiday in efforts to win converts. The former pagan name was changed to Easter.

German culture is responsible for bringing the legend of the Easter bunny to the United States around the 17th century, when boys and girls left their caps and bonnets for the Easter bunny to fill with colored eggs. Eggs have been known for centuries as a symbol of rebirth. As time passed, children began to leave baskets for the eggs brought by the magical rabbit, historians say.

Today, the many different types of eggs — candy, plastic, dyed and hard-boiled — usually are given with other candy and chocolate bunnies, Ms. Lapidus says. Some of Godiva’s baskets this season are made from blue wire and decorated with orange ribbon, ranging in price from $46 to $80.

The local craft store can lend a hand in creating an Easter basket if someone doesn’t want to buy a pre-made basket, says Carolyn Dykes, department manager at Michaels, the Arts and Crafts Store, in Falls Church.

After choosing a basket, flowers, straw, ribbon, trim and stuffed animals can be added, along with candy, she says.

“It’s the fun you put into it,” Ms. Dykes says. “You can use the Easter basket as a gift, or you can use it for a table centerpiece.”

Although children like gifts of candy, adults may enjoy an Easter basket filled with flowers, says Linda Whitehead, designer at Merrifield Garden Center in Merrifield.

For spring and Easter, willow baskets painted in pastel colors are popular. Potpourri, lotion, silk flowers, primroses or a small azalea may look nice inside the containers.

“For me, basket means bounty,” Ms. Whitehead says. “You can do a collection of fruit or flowers for Easter, but it’s usually eggs and candy.”

Easter isn’t the only time of year appropriate for themed baskets, says Alfred Fearon, chief executive officer of OIC International, a basket-ware company based in Bolivar, Ohio.

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas also can be occasions when a gift basket is a good idea.

Many people think men don’t want to receive baskets, but they might like to receive anything that’s full of golf items, fishing gear, sports items or cigars, says Mr. Fearon. Super Bowl baskets, made in a laundry basket, with sauces, chips and beer, would intrigue a man, he says.

Baskets of goodies also would be appropriate for baby showers, bridal parties, cooking parties and tea parties.

“You can take a basket and theme it to almost anything your imagination can see,” Mr. Fearon says. “Afterward, the person has a good container to make a dish garden or flower arrangement.”

The average basket is about 8 inches in diameter, suited for a 6-inch plant, says Ed Rosario, manager at Johnson’s Florist and Garden Center in Northwest. The store sells round baskets measuring up to 20 inches in diameter, he says. Of course, the bigger the basket, the more the item usually costs.

Baskets are made from various materials, including wicker, willow, vine and bamboo. Some of them are painted, while others are whitewashed, and still others are natural and rustic looking. Customers usually pick the basket that best fits their decor, Mr. Rosario says.

Whatever the color, they can be used for various purposes, such as holding magazines, food or towels, he says.

“Baskets can be used in any room of the home during any season,” Mr. Rosario says. “They are most often used for plants, but during spring, they are used for Easter.”

Even dogs can get on the basket bandwagon, says Patty Lynch, saleswoman at Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, Md.

“I have a dog, and we have a really nice basket where we put his toys,” Ms. Lynch says. “It’s better than having his toys all over the floor.”

In addition to using baskets to decorate and organize a home, people should remember they can transport things in a basket, instead of a bag, says Bonny Fowler, director of corporate communications at Longaberger Co. in Newark, Ohio.

Baskets are helpful in carrying items to and from the home and the office, even to a child’s after-school activity, she says. In the home, uses for baskets are endless.

Although Longaberger Co. has handmade baskets for general use, others are designed for more specific reasons. For instance, hamper baskets, cake baskets, picnic baskets, wastebaskets, lunchbox baskets and file baskets all serve their purpose, she says.

“Baskets symbolize the role of craftsmanship in America,” Ms. Fowler says. “They are a handcrafted work of art. Not only do they serve a functional purpose in a home, but they are also beautiful and durable.”

In a world where everything is mass produced, people’s fascination with baskets surely will continue, says Lisa Frudden, marketing director at Palecek, a furniture and accessories company in Richmond, Calif.

“It takes human hands to make them,” Ms. Frudden says. “It’s a nice thing to have in this day and age. Each one is sort of unique because it’s not made on a machine.”

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