Catalog Number: 1986.033.01
Easter is known for its many traditions, including the Easter Bunny, painting and hiding eggs, and searching for candy baskets. But how did all of these traditions start?
It’s thought that the tradition of the Easter Bunny came to the United States with German immigrants as early as the 1700s. These immigrants practiced having their children make a nest for a large mythical hare named Osterhase so he could come and lay his colorful eggs. The tradition soon spread across America, but it was not just German immigrants who influenced the Easter holiday.
Eggs have long been associated with Christ and springtime as symbols of rebirth and resurrection, but they also were used by pre-Christian religions as symbols of new life. The popular egg-rolling competition is now associated with the moving of the rock from Jesus’ tomb.
Decorating eggs goes back to 13th-century Europe, when people would give up eggs during Lent. Eggs often would be decorated but not eaten until Easter morning to mark the end of Lenten season.
Candy is a relatively new Easter tradition. The chocolate egg originated in France and Germany during the 19th century. Today, Easter is the second biggest holiday for candy sales in the United States. Chocolate is king, including in La Crosse.
Funke Candy Co. was once the largest confectioner in La Crosse, and it was open from 1890 to 1933. It was located at 101 State St., which today is the site of The Charmant Hotel.
Funke produced 160 types of chocolates and more than 500 types of candies. The confectioner had a reputation for still hand dipping chocolate at a time when its competitors were beginning to use machinery instead.
Funke candy was sold across the country, and the treats also were available on most major railways at a time when passenger cars were a popular form of transportation.
During the candy heyday, Funke had about 220 employees. It had offices, a salesroom, a stockroom and a shipping area on the first floor. The second floor was home to the chocolate department, the creamery was on the third, and hard candies were made on the fourth floor. The company was doing so well that in 1908 that it added on to the back of the building for more space.
The Great Depression hit in the late 1920s, causing the demise of candy factories such as Funke, which closed its doors in 1933.
Funke made the Easter Sweets candy box that is pictured here. The purple box features some of the newer Easter traditions we’re all familiar with, including lilies, bunnies, chicks and colorful eggs.
This artifact was donated by Elfrieda Jahnel, who ran a photography business from her studio at 107 N. Fifth St. She was born in 1919, which means she would have been a young girl and early teen during the Funke candy era. It’s possible she may have received this candy box as a gift one Easter morning.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 31, 2018.