Back in the old days Mama and Papa used to dress their brood up in lace and finery, pack us into the sedan and take us to Easter Sunday services.
I remember waking up to the smell of freshly cut grass wafting in through the open bedroom window and listening to songbirds singing bright tunes in the still of the morning. All the kids were freshly scrubbed with Castile soap or whatever the household suds producer was called. The scrapes and bruises of childhood adventures were Mercurichrome’d into submission. Everyone decked out in their absolute best clothes instead of the usual well-worn shirts and britches of play. I remember the excitement of glimpsing what a fantasy-induced magic bunny left in my basket before putting on a starchy dress that I absolutely detested, and then traveling to a big building where I had to sit quietly for a whole hour. (We were not Catholic then but by golly, I experienced Purgatory for at least an hour every week.)
After Easter services, one adult distracted the kids while the other adult hid the eggs, and then every one of those wild Indians went hunting eggs and especially searched for the Prize Egg. The winner of the Prize Egg got a big chocolate Easter Bunny and the non-winners got, well, I guess they got a platter full of deviled eggs for the rest of the afternoon.
When we moved out deep into the countryside and could no longer attend church, we still dyed eggs on Holy Saturday night and awoke to little baskets of goodies and already hidden eggs. We had lots of room outside to search for eggs, and our Papa was inventive and found the most imaginative places to hide them. After he passed, we continued the tradition of coloring eggs and celebrating.
Fast forward to the ’80’s –
I also raised my kids on Magical Fantasy Creatures who brought candy and hid their eggs for them to find, in addition to Sunday Catechism lessons for the Official Stuff. The Easter Bunny knew my youngest child Will was on the way when I went into labor on Easter Sunday during our egg hunt; he was the best Prize Egg ever found.
I have no Easter outfit photo of my granddaughter yet, but I will get one. I look forward to future egg hunts with her.
And sure, now that I am no longer a practicing Christian, there’s a lot I could say about religion and belief systems and all that squawk, but let’s not. Instead, let’s look back on these photos and think about the childhood times of anticipation of a treasure hunt and enjoying jelly beans and mallomar cream candies and milk chocolate bunnies – and MALTED MILK EGGS OMG THOSE WERE SO GOOOOOOD!
Too many times, as I have mentioned in other essays here, children are exposed to traditions but not given a clue as to what they mean, when they started and why they are continued to be celebrated. I only vaguely understood the Christian Easter story. Every year ABC showed “The Ten Commandments” which we always watched and loved, especially because the acting was so… dramatic (“Oh, Moses, Moses!” “Master Builder or Master Butcher?” “Behold his mighty hand!” and my personal favorite, “So let it be written; so let it be done.”) The Ten Commandments had nothing to do with the Easter story but had everything to do with Passover, which my family did not celebrate. Still, it’s in the Old Testament so we watched the stunningly beautiful Anne Baxter chew the scenery with Charlton Heston and his booming voice, got the heebie-jeebie creeps watching the green smoke of Pestilence crawl down off the moon and onto the streets of Egypt, and struck poses and quoted the film throughout the viewing. Easter = chocolate chewing and scenery chewing.
Most years network TV offered up King of Kings or other passion of Jesus stories and we watched them. I don’t recall the names of many of them because they were less ….Dramatic and more…. storytelling. I enjoyed the storytelling aspect because Cecil B. DeMille wasn’t involved and beating the story with a stick, I suppose.
When you are a kid, everything is new, fresh, and through the eyes of an innocent child, everything is true until a falsehood is revealed. Back in 1958, five members of the Beartown Gang in that photo believed in the Easter story AND in the Easter Bunny. The youngest member, me, was not even aware there was a narrative to anything yet. All those children were happy and smiling and giggling and eager to get on with the fun. Sure, there were some serious times my siblings lived through and not every moment was a pearl, but for one magic morning out of the year, we enjoyed candy and treasure hunting, and tradition.