Let’s review what we know about the Easter Bunny:
The Easter Bunny, a.k.a. Peter Cottontail, is a magical rabbit who brings candy and colored eggs to children on Easter. Sometimes he likes to hide the eggs or a basket of treats and other times he simply leaves a filled basket for the children to find when they wake up.
In my experience, there are two primary texts which explain the Easter Bunny story:
Here comes Peter Cottontail hoppin’ down the Bunny Trail.
Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way!
And “Meeting the Easter Bunny” by Rowena Bennett.
(My sister had to memorize this poem for an elementary school play. She walked around the house reciting it for several days in preparation, so, of course, we all know it quite well.)
On Easter morn at early dawn before the cocks were crowing,
I met a bob-tail bunnykin and asked where he was going,
“Tis in the house and out the house a-tipsy, tipsy toeing,
Tis round the house and ’bout the house a-lightly I am going.”
“But what is that of every hue you carry in your basket?”
“Tis eggs of gold and eggs of blue;”
I wonder that you ask it.
“Tis chocolate eggs and bonbon eggs
And eggs of red and gray,
For every child in every house on bonny Easter Day.”
He perked his ears
And winked his eye
And twitched his little nose;
He shook his tail–
What tail he had–
And stood up on his toes.
“I must be gone before the sun;
The East is growing gray;
“Tis almost time for bells to chime.”
So he hippety-hopped away.
It’s a pretty simple story. You can read an expanded variation in The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Dubose Heyward, but basically, you’ve got the rabbit, the basket, and the treats. (I understand that some Europeans believe the Easter Bunny actually lays the eggs, but most Americans will remind you that a rabbit is a mammal and such notions are a perversion of Nature.)
So what’s with the New Easter that’s being shaped in my local retail store?
I ran smack into New Easter last week when I went to the Super Target. Alongside the traditional wicker Easter baskets was the most amazing collection of candy containers I’ve ever seen.
There were plush “baskets” shaped like Hello Kitty heads, My Little Pony, Shrek’s head, Elmo with bunny ears, and even a Spiderman head. (Imagine the Easter Bunny hoppin’ down the bunny trail with a Spiderman head full of candy!)
There were plush triceratops, plush Tonka trucks, footballs, soccer balls, monkeys, dogs, and ducks-all with a handle and a hollow space for candy. There were even metal containers that looked like recycled wastebaskets with fuzzy bunny stickers and a handle stuck on.
“Halloween for Spring,” said my husband—and you know, I believe I did see some of these items sold as trick-or-treat bags a couple of months ago. And while it may make a certain theological sense to link Easter and All Hallows’ Eve/All Saints Day, I don’t think that’s what the Merchandisers of the World had in mind. They’re just re-tooling and re-packaging what worked in the fall.
Now I am generally tolerant of the, uhhh, creative impulses that accompany American Capitalism. But dude, don’t mess with the Rabbit.
Here’s an example of Messing with the Myth: Dove is selling a Fairy Bunny this year—a hollow chocolate rabbit that has butterfly wings and a little rhyme on the box, “Not far from Whispering Willows, just north of Rainbow Bay, is a valley few grown-ups know of where the magical Fairy Bunnies play….”
People, the Easter Bunny is already magical and he don’t need no stinkin’ butterfly wings. The texts clearly refer to his “hippity-hopping.” Even the Mr. Potato Head Spud Bunny hops. A more authentic Easter product, in my opinion.
And what is Easter without eggs? Once upon a time you dyed your own with food coloring and vinegar (I will never forget the smell of egg shells in hot vinegar water.) Then there were Paas. Then plastic eggs in bright colors. This season there are metallic sparkle eggs and camo eggs (in green or pink camo), and chick, bunny and frog “eggs” (why do they call them “frog eggs?” These are plastic frogs not frog eggs.) You can fill your basket with bug eggs and velvet eggs, with Hello Kitty, Elmo, and Spiderman head eggs. I hate to be a grump, but these are not eggs. At least Elmo and the Superman shields are appropriately labeled as “Treat Containers.”
One aisle over, next to the bunny and chick costumes in Adult and child sizes (more Halloween) were the pre-packaged Easter Egg Hunts. You can buy eggs pre-filled with Hershey’s products, or Wonka candies, or Twizzlers and Jolly Ranchers. There’s a Disney/Pixar kit, a Troll egg hunt (only 4 eggs in this one; better buy two kits), Nick Jr., Sesame Street, Barbie, and the cool-looking “EGGZOTICS” with Hotwheel cars inside. There are also non-character kits and games: the All Star Sports Egg Hunt, Racing Eggs, Flower Power Eggs, Pin the Tail on the Bunny Egg Game, the Egg Scramble Game with musical timer (Don’t get caught without the egg!), and my personal favorite-the Nighttime Egg Hunt. These eggs are hard-to-find black, dark blue, and dark purple with a special reflective stripe around the middle–flashlights and batteries included. (Just wake up the children after Easter Vigil and you’re ready to go!)
Now I understand the impulse to buy the pre-packaged Easter. We’ve all gotten used to individual servings from Halloween and packing lunchboxes, and who has time for vinegar and food coloring? My people don’t even like hard-boiled eggs.
But Easter–even the purely secular Easter-Bunny Easter–is anchored in a story. If you discard the story then the magic disappears, and all that’s left is brightly-colored packaging surrounding empty calories and cheap plastic trinkets. Before you know it, there are only five movie plots in Hollywood, only ten different toys on the shelves, and only one holiday repeated periodically throughout the year.
Let’s keep the Bunny. And the Basket. And the Eggs.