Herr Oster Hase
A LONG time ago, in a far-off country, there was a famine; and this is how it came about: In the early spring, when the first grass peeped out, the sun shone so hot that the grass was dried up. No rains fell through the long summer months, so that the seed and grain that were planted could not grow, and everywhere the fields and meadows—usually so green and rich—were a dull gray-brown. Here and there a green tree waved its dusty branches in the hot wind. When fall came, instead of the well-filled granaries and barns, there was great emptiness; and instead of happy fathers and mothers, there were grave, troubled ones.
But the children were just as happy as ever. They were glad, even, that it had not rained, for they could play out of doors all day long; and the dust-piles had never been so large and fine.
The people had to be very saving of the things that had been left from the year before. All the following winter, by being very careful, they managed to provide simple food for their families. When Christmas came there were not many presents, but the children did not miss them as we would, because in that land they did not give many presents at Christmas-time.
Their holiday was Easter Sunday. On that day they had a great celebration, and there were always goodies and presents for the little boys and girls. As the time came nearer, the parents wondered what they should do for the children's holiday. Every new day it was harder than the day before to get just plain, coarse bread to eat; and where would they find all the sweetmeats and pretty things that the children had always had at Easter-time?
One evening some of the mothers met, after the children were in bed, to talk about what they should do. One mother said: "We can have eggs. All the chickens are laying; but the children are so tired of eggs, for they have them every day."
So they decided that eggs would never do for an Easter treat; and they went home sorrowfully, thinking that Easter must come and go like any other day. And one mother was more sorry than any of the others. Her dear little boy and girl had been planning and talking about the beautiful time they were to have on the great holiday.
After the mother had gone to bed, she wondered and thought if there were any way by which she could give her little ones their happy time. All at once she cried right out in the dark: "I know! I have thought of something to make the children happy!"
She could hardly wait until morning, and the first thing she did was to run into the next house and tell her neighbor of the bright plan she had thought of. And the neighbor told some one else, and so the secret flew until, before night, all the mothers had heard it, but not a single child.
There was still a week before Easter, so there was a good deal of whispering; and the fathers and mothers smiled every time they thought of the secret. When Easter Sunday came, every one went, first of all, to the great stone church—mothers and fathers and children. When church was over, instead of going home, the older people suggested walking to the great woods just back of the church.
"Perhaps we may find some flowers," they said.
So on they went, and soon the merry children were scattered though the woods, among the trees.
Then a shout went up—now here, now there—from all sides.
"Father, mother, look here!"
"See what I have found—some beautiful eggs!"
"Here's a red one!"
"I've found a yellow one!"
"Here's a whole nestful—all different colors!"
And the children came running, bringing beautiful colored eggs which they had found in the soft moss under the trees. What kind of eggs could they be? They were too large for bird's eggs; they were large, like hens' eggs; but who ever saw a hen's egg so wonderfully colored?
Just then, from behind a large tree where the children had found a nest full of eggs, there jumped a rabbit, and with long leaps he disappeared in the deep woods, where he was hidden from view by the trees and the bushes.
"It must be that the rabbit laid the pretty eggs," said one little girl.
"I am sure it was the rabbit," said her mother.
"Hurrah for the rabbit! Hurrah for the Easter rabbit! Hurrah for Herr Oster Hase!" the children cried; and the fathers and mothers were glad with the children.
So this is the story of the first Easter eggs, for, ever since then, in that far-away land and in other countries, too, has Herr Oster Hase brought the little children at Easter-time some beautiful colored eggs.