If the basket your child is tucking into right now is anything like the one my son just got, the milk chocolate bunny and the Zitner's Butter Krak eggs are in a battle for space with toys, clothing, and nonedibles of all kinds. Maybe yours has a new Wii game, or a Webkinz. Perhaps the basket is full of candy, but there's a new bike sitting next to it.
Somewhere along the way - probably when we parents started blaming the Easter bunny and the trick-or-treat bag, rather than ourselves, for childhood obesity - Easter became another gift-giving holiday. When I was a kid, the best part of Easter morning was deciding whether to attack the big egg in the middle or head straight for the chocolate bunny's ears, not wondering which new Wii game would be tucked in there, too. Kids today cannot live by Cadbury eggs alone.
These days, the idea of doing what our parents did - handing a child a basket full of chocolate and saying, "Here, have at it" - seems irresponsible, unless maybe it's organic dark chocolate and in 100-calorie packs. But what of replacing the expectation of candy with the expectation of yet more toys and gifts - is that just irresponsibility of another kind?
Over the last month, the front aisles at Target and every dollar store in the land have been stuffed to bursting with Easter knickknacks, along with non-holiday-specific springtime-themed tchotchkes in case you want to get into the holiday spirit but don't actually celebrate Easter. This year's big Easter basket-timed DVD releases - Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie on March 11 foremost among them - were ready to fill in any empty space that might have been left alongside the Peeps.
My friend Miki, who is raising her children Catholic but is herself a self-described pagan, gave her kids Polly Pockets, GeoTrax trains, and other toys, and found a new deck of Tarot cards in her own Easter basket. But she also expected the "Ostara bunny" to leave her some new crystals on March 20, date of the vernal equinox. Another told me she's holding firm with her two boys, who want to know why they only get candy while the bunny brings their friends PSP games.
Still, it's not as if we've stopped buying Easter candy, and overall spending on the holiday continues to climb. Last year, the National Retail Association estimated Americans would spend $135.07 on Easter, 11 percent more than in 2006, for total holiday spending of $14.37 billion. This year, the National Confectioners Association forecasts candy sales to be down about 6 percent from last year, but that's attributable mostly to Easter's early arrival - meaning there was less time for us all to sneak enough dips into the bags before the actual holiday to necessitate buying even more.
Recently, the husband and I had another couple over for dinner, and I set a bowl full of Easter candy (regular and coconut creme Hershey's Kisses, and little Reese's cups) on the coffee table. We put the kids to bed, and then sat up late talking. And as we adults chatted about what would be in our boys' baskets and how to get them to eat the right foods, we each kept returning to the bowl, sneaking our favorites until all that remained was a little mountain of wadded-up balls of pastel-colored foil.
Do me a favor, don't tell the kids - after all, we can't have them thinking it's OK to just eat a handful of chocolate candy whenever you want.
Then again, they'll probably just be mad we made them wait until this morning for theirs.