Mau-Mauing the Easter Bunny

Anna Quindlen

April 17, 1992|By Anna Quindlen

IT IS a difficult thing to rise up and decry those traditions and symbols that have become national customs. Although it is widely accepted that Mother's Day is a tool of crass commercial interests, a man attacks it (or forgets it) at his peril.

Those lone voices that complain about the joylessness of Christmas are silenced by the rum-pum-pum-pum of Muzak carols in elevators.

Little attention was paid to the courage of one man, Calvin Trillin, when he suggested a dozen years ago that we stop talking turkey on Thanksgiving. Mr. Trillin was an eloquent representative of those of us who believe that, in taste tests, Americans served erasable bond with gravy and stuffing will swear it is good.

The so-called Trillin movement to substitute spaghetti carbonara for turkey as the national harvest feast dish has gone nowhere, except that there are now photographs of the man in the barns of many poultry farms, above the feed bin, with orders to peck to kill.

So it was not easy to make the decision to publicly trash the Easter Bunny. The Easter Bunny has always troubled me. Santa Claus stands for giving, warmth, the magic of childhood.

The Easter Bunny stands for sugar.

I embrace tradition, custom, legend. I believe that children should have grounding in those events that make the year go round: their birthdays, my birthday, the first day of trout season, opening day at Yankee Stadium.

And I believe in family myths and legends, those small moments, preserved in the amber of memory, that give a sense of continuity to life, like that wacky afternoon when Mom drove the wrong way down Eighth Avenue after she found the Jell-O Jigglers in her purse.

But the Easter Bunny is so unsatisfactory a holiday icon that no one even knows what he does. Does he color the eggs? Lay the eggs? Hide the eggs? What is his visual image? Is he a human-size rabbit (terrifying) or an average-sized rabbit (well, then, how does he carry baskets)?

Some people imagine him wearing a pale blue velvet jacket. This is in fact Peter Rabbit, not the Easter Bunny; the confusion is a function of the fact that people think all rabbits look alike. A few people imagine the Easter Bunny wearing a top hat; these are readers of men's magazines.

What about transportation? Santa has a sleigh, the Tooth Fairy ++ has wings. How does the Easter Bunny get from house to house? I have a child here who thinks the Easter Bunny drives a pickup truck. What kind of holiday symbol could conceivably drive a pickup truck? The Easter Bubba?

Background material is scanty. Most books note that the hare was a symbol of fecundity in ancient times.

Fecundity . . . chocolate . . . dyed chicks -- oh, now I get it.

You know and I know that you can trace the rise of the Easter Bunny directly back to the rise of candy manufacturing in the United States. I support candy manufacturing. The only part of a chocolate rabbit I have no use for is the empty space in the center and those little sugar eyes they put on them.

Everyone knows the best part of Easter is eating your children's candy while they are sleeping and then trying to convince them the next morning that the chocolate rabbit came with one ear.

But all this is very confusing to today's children, who are always being fed things like kale. They meander along, living their whole-wheat lives, and then one Sunday they wake up and discover there is nothing on the menu but jellybeans and ham. I was so struck by this contrast that I once prepared a politically correct Easter basket filled with lovely bath surprises. The child's father peeked inside and said "Duck soap?" in a tone of derision. And that was that.

Mr. Trillin advises that messing with the holidays is risky (P business and brings reader mail. He reports that even more unpopular than his Thanksgiving attack on turkey was his

Christmas attack on fruitcake. Mr. Trillin likes to say that no one has ever been known to sigh, "Boy, I could really go for a piece of fruitcake right now."

And he is right. I have insulated my family from fruitcake, but not from the Easter Bunny. Once a year some child has the wit to say: "Cool! He brought all the stuff that she never lets us eat!" Fecundity . . . plastic grass . . . marshmallow chicks -- fill me in


Anna Quindlen is a New York Times columnist.

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