While most adults are eager to indulge their children and grandchildren at Christmas, my ethnographic research on Easter (described in my book Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith) suggests that many parents are more laid back about Easter’s secular celebration than they are about Christmas. Moms are eager initiators of Christmas activities such as visiting the mall to see Santa Claus or writing letters to Santa. But at Easter many parents are more involved in the religious rituals of Advent and church-going, sometimes overlooking how much kids enjoy secular Easter rituals.
- Children, at Easter, aren’t made to sit on the Easter Bunny’s lap against their will, in contrast to firm parental coaxing to sit on Santa’s lap. When kids visit the mall’s bunny impersonator, they deeply enjoy it. Unlike time spent with Santa, a bunny visit involves no awkward conversation for tots who aren’t verbose. The bunny is huggable and nonverbal, like a big stuffed animal that even a toddler can interact with in child-suiting pastimes such as patty-cake and peek-a-boo.
- Children, at Easter, are apt to nag their parents to get ready for the Easter Bunny’s visit since parents often need reminding to color eggs or put up decorations. Many a parent has been goaded into Easter egg coloring by kids’ persistent reminders.
If you’re a parent or grandparent, my report to you is that children deeply relate to Easter as a festival of new life, epitomized by the rabbit, known for its fertility, and baby animals like lambs and chicks and little ducks (all eaten in chocolate effigy). The egg, at the very symbolic center of secular Easter, is all about new life and potential vitality. As children described in interviews, chicks or birds come out of eggs. Jelly beans and flowers are also symbolic of new life. Even that cellulose grass that fills Easter baskets is a reminder of natural growth and chaos as it lingers around the house like confetti left over from a party in honor of nature’s liveliness. Secular Easter is a festival honoring life’s resurgence; children identify with that theme at a deep, visceral level.
So, if an opportunity arises to have breakfast with the Easter Bunny or to take part in a public Easter egg hunt, remember that children would probably love to do this more than most adults would. Easter is about natural resurgence and so are children. Coloring Easter eggs, filling baskets with Easter goodies, and hunting for eggs are ways to let children know that new life is exceptionally welcome in our lives.
Cindy Dell Clark is a founding member of Child’s World America and an anthropologist who studies American children and families. In 2016 she interviewed families qualifying for poverty assistance in Camden County, New Jersey. Her book on American kids and Santa Claus is Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith: Children’s Myths in Contemporary America.