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Hot Cross Buns

Once, long ago in England, a monk saw poor families living together in rag tents on the streets of his town. Easter was two days away, and the monk thought to himself, "On the day of the rebirth of our Savior, families should not go hungry."

This monk had once been a baker, so he now baked a great many spiced buns with raisins inside. He decorated the shiny brown tops of the buns with a cross, and while they were still piping hot, he went out among the families and gave them the delicious buns.

A young boy named Giles would not take even one.

"Bake me a basketful of buns that I can sell," he said. "I do not want charity."

The monk looked at the boy's ragged c;othes and dirty face, and though he felt sorry for the lad, he saw that Giles had pride, so he baked the child a basket of the buns.

That Easter morning, Giles took his basket from house to house, singing out in a voice that carried over the clear air:

"Hot Cross Buns. Hot Cross Buns.
One a penny, two a penny, Hot Cross Buns.
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons.
Hot Cross Buns. Hot Cross Buns."

Before Mass that morning, Giles had sold all the buns. He put the money he had earned in the poor box at church.

To this day, children all over the world chant the words of his song.

The Magic Stone

Once upon a time, long before the first Easter, long before there were cities or towns, when people still lived like animals in caves, they say a man found what he thought was a stone, and brought it home to his family. It was a peculiar stone, not quite round, and very smooth.

Everyone was very pleased with it and stared at it for hours. The children wanted to hold it, but their father would not let them.

And then something very strange happened, the stone moved. Everyone saw it tremble. They all stepped back away from it. What sort of stone was this? It shook again. The father reached for his club. He would smash it. He raised the club high over his head, then suddenly a hole appeared in the stone. The hole widened, and the tiny head of a little bird peeked out. Another moment, and the stone split open. There stood the whole bird, which peered at all the people gathered around him.

The man had found an egg, but these early people didn't know that. They thought that life had come from a dead stone. The one thing they did know was that they had witnessed a miracle.

The egg has become a part of the Easter celebration. Some say that the little chick emerging from the shell symbolizes Christ's resurrection from the tomb. Possibly so. But surely, whenever we see life appearing where there was no life before---whether it's a blade of grass pushing up through the earth, or a new little bird---we know that we have seen a miracle.

Easter Morning Madness

Ben Bunny scratched his long, gray ears. "Now where did I put it?" he wondered to himself. It was very early on Easter morning and Ben had lost something. He couldn't even remember what he had lost. His pink nose wiggled.

"Let's see now," Ben said, "It's Easter morning. I do know that. Red Robin woke me up this morning. He told me that I had work to do." Ben glanced around his underground home. There were top hats everywhere. Ben Bunny collected top hats. Some were gray. Some were black. And some had ribbons, too.

Ben peered under some of the hats. "I wish I could remember what I have lost," he muttered. "Maybe Red Robin can help me." Ben went up his front tunnel, plopping his favorite gray top hat between his ears.

On his way to Red Robin's tree, Ben saw his friend Edward in the distance. Edward was waiting with his family and friends for the first rays of the Easter sun. "I have a feeling I should hurry," Ben said to himself. "I have a feeling my work is supposed to be done very soon." He hopped off in a hurry toward Red Robin's tree.

Red Robin was sitting in his nest whistling a tune. "Help me, Red Robin," said Ben. "What am I supposed to be doing this morning? Do you know?" Ben straightened his top hat. It had fallen a little to one side.

Red Robin scolded, "You're the Easter Bunny. You're supposed to deliver Easter eggs. You'd better get moving. The sun is coming up!"

"You're right! Now I remember," Ben cried out excitedly. "And what I have lost are my Easter eggs. Have you seen them anywhere, Red Robin?"

"Yes, dear Ben," Red Robin sighed. "They are in the meadow near the house of Jenny Mouse. That is where you always keep your Easter eggs."

"Thank you, thank you, and happy easter, Red Robin," Ben called as he raced toward the meadow. "Now I must hurry if I am to deliver those Easter eggs on time."

The sun was just beginning to show through the trees when Ben Bunny reached the meadow. What a sight greeted his pink-rimmed eyes! There were eggs everywhere! They were all colors and all sizes. Some were painted with tiny pictures. Some were made of chocoklate. Some were even wrapped in shiny pink and blue paper.

Jenny Mouse popped out of her house. "Well, Ben Bunny, you've got your work cut out for you this morning. Did you bring your basket?" Ben Bunny's ears drooped sadly. "I left my Easter basket at home. How am I going to collect all these eggs?"

"Why don't you use your hat?" asked Jenny . Ben hopped up and down. "That's a great idea, Jenny. If I hurry, I can do my job before Edward gets home from watching the sunrise."

Ben stuffed his top hat full of eggs and raced toward Edward's house. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks. "I've forgotten where I'm supposed to put these eggs."

Ben began scattering the Easter eggs throughout the garden. He hid some in the bushes. He placed some in the flowers. He put some under the lawn furniture. When the job was done, Ben wiped his forehead. "Whew! It's tough work being the Easter Bunny," he said. He scratched a long, gray ear. "Now, where did I leave my hat?" he said to himself.

The Story Of The Easter Bunny
Chapter One

Once upon a time there was a little rabbit named Early. He lived with his mother, father, and three brothers---Qucksilver, Clover, and Acorn---in a cozy rabbit hole at the top of a grassy hill.

Early had been given his name because he was born just before dawn one Sunday morning. He had been born too early, too. He was a runt, his mother said. One of his paws turned inward just a little, so that instead of hopping straight ahead, he zigzagged from side to side.

He was by far the slowest of his brothers. Quicksilver could run faster than the wind. Clover was strong and could pull carrots out of the ground quicker than a blink of an eye. Acorn, the oldest, was clever. He knew all sorts of useful things, such as where to find lettuce and how to tell which way the wind was blowing.

But Early was just Early. His brothers used to say that he should have been called Late. They said he was not much good at anything. He liked flowers and birds and butterflies. He was best at daydreaming.

As he sat and gazed up at the sky, Early would make up wonderful stories about flowers that danced and talked to each other, and the colors of the rainbow, and where the snowflakes came from.

"I don't know what I will do with you, Early," his father said. "You're a daydreamer." But his mother said Early would be just fine. He was a good-hearted little rabbit, and that was what mattered.

Early liked making up stories, and he liked listening to stories. His aunt Sophia was a famous storyteller. In the evening all the rabbits of the grassy hill used to gather around her. She would tell stories about faraway lands, strange animals, and magic happenings. Early loved all her stories, but his very favorite was the story of the Easter Bunny.

There really was an Easter Bunny. All the young rabbits had heard about him. He was the most famous rabbit of all. Every year on Easter Sunday he travelled the world, bringing eggs to all the children.

Aunt Sophia had actually seen the Easter Bunny once when she was young. Early made her tell about it over and over again.

It had happened just after sunrise one easter morning. Aunt Sophia had gone out very early, and she had seen him on the horizon. He had been just a flash of white on the hillside, for the Easter Bunny was the fastest rabbit in the world. But she had seen that he was carrying a basket filled with eggs that gleamed like jewels.

One night, when they were all gathered around, Aunt Sophia told the young rabbits something wonderful. When the Easter Bunny Grew old and tired, she said, he chose a new Easter Bunny from among the best of all the rabbits in the world.

Quicksilver, Clover, and Acorn lifted their heads proudly. They were surely among the best young rabbits in the world. But Early just looked at the ground. The best? He wasn't the best at anything.

Then Asunt Sophia asked all the young rabbits what they would like to be when they grew up. Quicksilver said he would like to be the fastest. Clover said he would like to be the strongest. Acorn said he wanted to be the cleverest rabbit in the world.

Aunt Sophia nodded.

She turned to Early and asked, "What about you?"

Early's ears turned pink. "I---I would like to be the Easter Bunny," he whispered shyly. He had not meant to say it---it had just popped out.

Everyone laughed. "You!" they cried. "Why, you're the slowest! You're the weakest! The Easter Bunny doesn't just sit on a hillside and look up at the sky. He's the fastest rabbit in the world! You could never be the Easter Bunny."

Early's ears turned an even brighter pink.

The season passed. Early grew, but not very much. Everyone agreed he was rather small for a rabbit who was almost grown up.

Now his brother Quicksilver was almost twice his size and could run across the grassy hill in a flash. Clover was almost three times his size---"as big as a cat." the other rabbits said admiringly. He could pull the largest carrots out of the ground with no trouble at all. As for Acorn, he was so clever that everyone on the hill asked his advice about all sorts of things---how to find the way home in a blizzard or escape from a hunter or a fox.

But people just laughed at Early.

"He's sweet-natured," everyone said, "but with a limp like that---" They shrugged. Early was not much good at anything.

In the mornings he could be seen sitting, watching everything.

In the springtime he looked at the first leaves that appeared on the trees and saw the tiny shoots of grass grow up out of the ground.

In the summer he smelled the heather and watched the sleepy dragonflies gather over the pond at the bottom of the hill.

In the fall he watched the birds fly south and the leaves change from green to red to gold.

He was often lonely, for the other rabbits seemed to be growing up and doing new things. But for Early, nothing changed.

The Story Of The Easter Bunny
Chapter Two
A Stranger

One December evening, around Christmastime, a group of rabbits huddled under the elm tree. The winter had been worse than usual, and the rabbits had only a few old bits of potato to eat. They were all feeling cold and bad-tempered.

Suddenly Acorn hopped up with a cry. "A stranger is coming up the hill!"

As the stranger came closer they all could see that he was a very old rabbit. He was perfectly white, and his fur shone against the snow with a silver glow.

"Good evening," the stranger said in a deep voice.

The rabbits of the grassy hill looked at him.

"I'm wondering if you could give me a meal and a bed for the night," he said.

Now the rabbits could see that he was shabbily dressed. His blue jacket had seen better days. His ears flopped over, as though he were very, very tired.

"Who are you and where do you come from?" Quicksilver asked rather sternly.

The stranger shrugged. "I'm a stranger," he replied. "I mean no harm, and I've been travelling a long way."

"That's no business of ours," Acorn said in his most grown-up tone of voice. "I'm afraid we cannot help you. We barely have enough food for ourselves."

The other rabbits nodded in agreement.

"And as for a bed," Acorn continued, "why should we take in a stranger who won't even tell us who he is?"

The other rabbits nodded again. They all felt there must be something odd about a stranger who appeared from nowhere. They all moved closer together in their circle, turning their backs on the strange visitor---all of them except Early.

He had been quietly watching the stranger. There was something in the stranger's eyes that made Early want to speak to him. Early had never before seen a rabbit with eyes like that. They were as blue as the sky.

"Excuse me," Early began, hopping forward a step or two. "We have room in---"

But at that moment Clover reached forward and cuffed him on the ears, knocking him backward.

"What do you think you're doing?" Acorn whispered crossly.

"Do you always have to be different?" Quicksilver hissed.

And they stepped in front of Early and glared at the stranger, who turned and hopped away into the icy night.

As soon as the stranger left, it began to snow. The rabbits gathered together, forming a tight circle against the sharp wind. The snowflakes fell more and more heavily.

Slowly the rabbits turned and hopped off to their warm rabbit holes. None of them spared a thought for the stranger left out alone in the storm---none of them except Early.

"It's terrible," he murmured to himself, "for an old rabbit like that to be outside when it's cold."

Early peered through the darkness and the falling snow. He felt he could not bear to go back home while the stranger was out all alone in the storm.

He set off slowly down the hill. He was going to find the stranger and bring him home. He didn't care what the others thought.

The wind whipped the snow into white clouds around him. The branches of the trees creaked and groaned. Early struggled down the hillside.

The woods at the bottom of the hill were silent except for the moan of the wind. All the animals had taken shelter from the storm.

Early hopped along as quickly as he could. The snow was falling so hard that he began to wonder how he would ever find the stranger.

He kept going. He had never been so far from home before. Not alone. He looked around, but none of the trees looked familiar. He was sure he was lost in the terrible storm.

He stopped by a fallen tree branch. He was shivering and his fur was stiff and icy.

"I'll never find the stranger," he murmured to himself. "And how will I ever find my way home?"

Just then, he thought he saw something move across the snow. "Hello!" he cried. "Hello---hello!"

He thought he could hear an answering cry. Then he saw a pair of eyes moving toward him. The eyes drew closer. Early ran forward as fast as he could. It was the old rabbit---the stranger---and he was shaking with cold!

"It's you!" Early cried."I've been looking for you everywhere."

Early was not certain that he would be able to find his home again. But with the stranger beside him, he just seemed to know the way. They went slowly through the storm to the warmth and safety of Early's rabbit hole.

Early slept near the door and let the stranger have his bed.

When he woke up the next morning, Early ran to his bedroom to see if the stranger was still there, but he had gone. Early asked his brothers about the stranger, but they just stared at him.

"You know he left last night," they told him. "Why would he have come back again?" They did not know that Early had brought the stranger back to the rabbit hole.

Early did not understand why the stranger had left without saying good-bye. Sorrowfully he went back to his room. He pushed open the door.

There, on the freshly made bed, he saw a small package wrapped in brown paper. "To Early," he read on the card, "from a friend."

He tore the paper off the package. Inside was a small egg made of green stone. The color was deep and fresh, like the first spring grass. The green egg glinted in the light.

Early did not want to tell anyone about the stranger's gift. The egg gave him a special feeling that was his alone.

Carefully he wrapped it up again and hid it under his mattress. Sometimes, when no one was around, he would take it out and look at it. It reminded him of spring and summer and days when the world was green and bright.

The Story Of The Easter Bunny
Chapter Three
The Easter Bunny

Winter passed and slowly spring came to the grassy hill. The tips of the trees turned pale green, and the smell of new grass was in the air. Soon after the first flowers bloomed, some exciting news came to the rabbits of the grassy hill.

A messenger, dressed very finely, came and read a proclamation. "The Easter Bunny has decided that he is too old to perform his duties anymore. He is choosing a new Easter Bunny to succeed him."

Quicksilver, Clover, and Acorn could talk of nothing else.

Each morning Quicksilver practised running. He ran faster and faster until he looked like a flash of light on the hillside. Clover built up his strength until he could turn over big stones with just a single paw. Acorn spoke to all the wise old rabbits. He was trying to improve his knowledge, so that he would be the cleverest young rabbit in the world.

Early, however, just continued to be polite and to offer help wherever it was needed. When his work was done, he sat under the elm tree and made up stories. Sometimes the younger rabbits asked him to tell them his stories, which they loved. And though he was still rather shy, he did.

He hoped that one of his brothers might be the new Easter Bunny. They were so talented, he was sure one of them would be chosen.

March came, then April.

Quicksilver could outrun all the other rabbits, even ones from the next hill. Clover was without question the strongest rabbit around. And everyone agreed that Acorn was awfully clever

"Any one of them would certainly make a good Easter Bunny!" the rabbits of the hill said proudly.

No one thought of Early.

One morning, toward the end of April, Aunt Sophia cried out that a procession was coming toward the grassy hill. As all the rabbits gathered and looked on, a group of finely dressed rabbits came climbing up the hill. At their head was a very noble rabbit indeed. The rabbits of the hill whispered to each other that it could be none other than the Easter Bunny himself. His silver-white furgleamed in the sunlight. His waistcoat was the color of new grass. His jacket was sky blue. In his paw he carried a silver basket filled with colored eggs of all kinds.

The rabbits of the grassy hill crowded around the visitors. Quicksilver, Clover, and Acorn were first among them. They were wearing their finest clothes. Each was secretly sure that he was the chosen one.

The procession came to a stop. The Easter Bunny stepped forward.

"I am pleased to say that the new Easter Bunny has been chosen from among you," he began. "He is the best of all the rabbits I came across in my Journeys. He knows who he is because I have given him a token of my friendship---an egg carved out of green stone.

The rabbits looked at each other in confusion. None of them had ever seen an egg like that. There was a long silence.

At last Early stepped forward shyly. "I beg your pardon, sir. I have a green egg like the one you mentioned. It was a gift from a stranger, but perhaps---perhaps he made a mistake." He took the green egg from his jacket and handed it to the Easter Bunny.

The Easter Bunny clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't you recognize me?" he asked.

And, looking up at his blue eyes, Early saw that the noble rabbit was none other than the stranger he had met that cold winter night so many months ago.

That night the rabbits of the hill celebrated. No one could believe it was Early who was to be the new Easter Bunny. His brothers were sure that somehow a mistake had been made. Only his mother and Aunt Sophia were not surprised.

"I always said you were kindhearted," his mother whispered to him, "and I always said that was more important than anything."

The rabbits of the hillside had danced and eaten into the night.Now they were all tired. Some of tem were falling asleep under the stars.

Early was looking up at the sky. He heard the voice of the Easter Bunny beside him. "It's time for us to go," he said.

Early turned to look at him. "Are you sure I'm the one?" he asked quietly, "I can hardly run at all, you know."

"It doesn't matter," the Easter Bunny answered. "You're the one."

He reached over and touched Early on the shoulder with his silver cane. Suddenly Early felt his legs and his paws start to tingle. He felt as though he could run as fast as anything. He looked sadly at the grassy hill, but he knew he had to go.

The two rabbits set off together along the hillside. Ast first Early was slightly slower than the Easter Bunny. But after a moment or two, he drew even with him. They ran faster and faster, until they were no more than a flash of white on the hillside.

The rabbits of the grassy hill watched them go with a happy feeling in their hearts.

If one Easter Sunday you see a rabbit carrying a silver basket full of colored eggs, you will know that he is the Easter Bunny. And although this story took place many years ago, it may well be Early himself. He is much older now, of course, but he is still a daydreamer. And sometimes, when he is tired, one paw turns in just a little bit, just as it used to a long time ago on the green, grassy hill.


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