By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —
I know it’s a little early, but Easter has already arrived in stores — so why not here?
In German families, like mine, we (the children) made Easter nests. No, not for a bird or a chicken, but for the Easter bunny. Everyone gathered Easter weekend at my Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Cherry Springs (Gillespie County). It was a large group since my mom is one of nine children. It was one giant slumber party with adults and kids sleeping on every available cushioned surface.
On Saturday afternoon, we would all pile into the back of a couple pickup trucks and go bouncing down dirt roads and through rocky, cactus-filled cow pastures in search of beautiful spring flowers. The prime riding spot was on the tail gate. You could hang your legs over the edge; an adult would call out instructions if a bush or dip was eminent and give you time to lift your legs out of danger. Those riding on the sides of the truck bed were given the command “Duck!” to escape the whip of low branches. It was a danger-filled, thrilling ride.
The adults up in the cab were on the lookout for flowers. They had already scouted out locations. My uncle’s pastures had the most beautiful wine cups. Evening primroses, yellow stars, Indian paintbrushes, Indian blankets, brown-eyed Susans, bluebonnets, and other wildflowers — even wild onions and occasional cactus flowers — were harvested by kids armed with scissors and baskets. (Note: Some felt like wild onions and cactus flowers were too stinky and too prickly for the Easter Bunny) Other baskets were filled by adults with green grass. Did we look for snakes in our headlong dash for the best specimens? Nope. I guess that was the adults’ job.
Back at Grandma’s house, we children would line up on the grass in front of the porch and get to work building our Easter nests. Most of them were round, but there was always one inventive or odd child (my brother) who ventured into the world of square, diamond or cross-shaped nests. A generous layer of grass was laid down first to cushion the Easter Bunny’s bottom as he laid eggs. Flowers were then artistically laid in patterns or rows around the nest leaving an open place in the center. You could always tell the personality of the child by the arrangement of their flowers.
Grandma had several gorgeous bridal wreath bushes that had cascading limbs of lacy white flowers. She gave each child a sprig of the bridal wreath to add to their nests. She GAVE us a sprig; we most certainly were NOT to attack her bushes on our own.
One Saturday night, while we were all gathered in the living room, the Easter Bunny actually made an appearance. I was sitting nearest to one of the front porch windows. I heard a small scratching sound. Turning my head, I was face-to-face with the Easter Bunny! He was so tall that he filled the double-hung window. He was blue. He waved. I swear on a nest of eggs, I met the REAL Easter Bunny in that moment.
I still believe in him.
On Easter Sunday morning, all we wanted to do was go check the nests. The moms had other plans; breakfasts had to be eaten, teeth had to be brushed, fancy Easter outfits had to be donned, new white shoes had to be buckled or tied and hair had to be perfect and ready for church before we were released out the front door.
The nests, with their wilted yet still beautiful flower designs, were filled with brightly colored hard-boiled eggs, chocolate rabbits and chocolate eggs, and miscellaneous toys and stuffed bunnies. The Easter Bunny always outdid himself and not one child was ever disappointed. So, the tradition was played out through the generations by my mom and her siblings, my cousins and me, our children and now they are beginning to teach the next one.
A little while ago I suddenly wondered why we do Easter nests and I found an interesting theory. Legend has it that there was one Duchess Rosalinda von Lindenberg who was forced to flee a war and hide with her children and servant. The little group received aid from the citizens of a tiny, remote mountain village which included food and shelter, but not eggs. The village had no chickens so they had no eggs.
When the Duchess sent her servant back home for news on the war, she asked him to also bring back chickens. Saving up many eggs, she put together a thank you feast for the village and introduced them to various egg concoctions. Then she gave them the chickens.
As Easter approached, Rosalinda von Lindenberg decided to treat the children with something special. She boiled eggs together with mosses, flowers, and roots to give them color. On Easter Sunday, she had the children build nests in the woods with sticks and moss and then sent them home to eat their Easter feast. After dinner, the children went to look at their nests and found colored eggs, some with rhymes on them, in them!
“How did the chickens lay colored eggs?” they asked. Then they saw a little wild hare jump out of the bushes. The children decided that it must have brought the eggs. The Easter Bunny, or der Osterhase, was born.
This lovely German story turned into the traditions of the Easter bunny and nest building. It was brought to America, and to Texas, by the thousands of Germans who emigrated in the 1700s and 1800s. Over time, chocolate bunnies and egg hunts were added to Easter celebrations. Fun fact: In the 1930s, people noticed that sugar coated almonds looked like eggs and they became a part of traditional Easter candies.
Maybe this year you can add the creation of Easter nests to your family’s Easter traditions. Easter is such a beautiful celebration of resurrection and life. What a great way to show your kids the wonder and new life that Easter brings.