As a kid, I went to Catholic school, and the week leading up to Easter was everything that the week before Christmas was not. Instead of parties with treats and stockings full of trinkets, we went to mass — long, boring mass — almost everyday, each of which had a special name. Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Super Saturday. The priests lectured us about suffering, and how guilty-grateful we should be for Christ’s sacrifice. “Repent!” they admonished. “For what?” I wondered. The hymns were way less catchy and fun than Christmas carols — they were downright dirgeful, and made no mention of elves. Were you there when they crucified our Lord? went the refrain to one. Thankfully, I wasn’t. It took three hours! I would’ve needed a book to pass the time. And instead of a baby in a manger, the story ends with a guy coming back from the dead, which even as a kid struck me as a stretch. Babies I had seen. The risen dead? Only in the music video to “Thriller.”
Besides which, a bunny that hides eggs makes no sense — rabbits don’t have opposable thumbs. There’s no way they could even lift an egg, let along deposit it in a shoe, where one always ended up on Easter morning.
This year, I finally reached my breaking point. My son’s almost four, at the age where he doesn’t blindly follow without asking a million questions, most designed to expose chinks in my parental armor. “Is the Easter Bunny real?” he asked me a couple of weeks ago.
“Sure,” I said.
But Felix must’ve heard the weariness in my voice. I couldn’t put on a show for him about the damn Easter bunny, because I knew what would be required — he’d want to know where the bunny lived, and why did it hide eggs, and did the Easter Bunny know Santa Claus? So when he said, “Really, Da-da?” I came clean.
“No, kid. The Easter Bunny is just pretend. Make believe.”
“Does this mean I still get to look for eggs on Easter?”
“If you want to.”
He did. So on the day before Easter, my wife, more of a sport than I, helped him dye eggs with potions she whipped up using red cabbage leaves and carrot tops while I took a nap. After he went to bed, we designed, despite my hemming-and-hawing, a tripartite egg hunt, because we’re not the kind of people who like to do things the way everyone else does. We prefer putting our own stamp on these kinds of cultural traditions, by which I mean we over-complicate them.
Get this: First, Felix would find plastic eggs hidden just at his level that contained picture clues inside. The clues would lead to eggs stashed out-of-sight, in harder to find spots. Each of those eggs would have a chocolate inside, along with a letter. (Ever a cheerleader for literacy, I insisted on these letter-based clues. You know, so he would see that people can use words for a purpose?) The letters would spell out the word OVEN, which was where my wife stashed his delicious, rich, dark chocolate bunny. “Are you sure a mouse won’t eat that?” I asked, as she placed it on a roasting tray.
“In the oven? No way. And now we won’t have to worry about hiding it tomorrow.”
After that, we picked out a delicious muffin recipe, thinking I would lure Felix downstairs with the promise of fresh baked muffins, allowing my wife to get a few extra winks before the hunt.
Now, you sharp readers probably see the problem. What would we need to bake those muffins? The oven. And where was that chocolate bunny hidden?
Sadly, in my pre-caffeinated haze, I didn’t consider the rabbit-shaped confection when I turned the oven dial to 400 degrees. Nor did I remember the chocolate hare when a slightly sweet smell filled the downstairs of the house, an odor that soon became acrid as its plastic wrapper melted onto the sheet. I guess the haze of blue-grey smoke in the room should’ve alerted me, but I had muffin tins to grease and coffee to make. Felix, on the other hand, knew something was up. “What’s that smell?” he asked several times.
“Nothing, kid. Just an old spill burning up on the bottom of the oven. Forget about it.”
When I opened the door to slide in the muffin tin, I found the poor sugary creature blackened and bubbling from almost thirty minutes in the heat. “What’s that nasty smell?” my wife asked when she came down shortly thereafter, awaken by the stench.
“Easter,” I told her.
By this point, the house smelled like a chemical fire. No miracle of the chocolate bunny occurred, the thing was ruined and nothing could bring it back. Felix considered the mess with tight-lips, seeming to weigh whether he should cry or just play it cool. Fortunately, he choose the latter. The egg hunt delighted him so much, it was an end in and of itself, no bunny needed. In fact, he kept having “Easter,” as he put it, again and again, hiding and re-hiding the eggs so that my wife and I could find him.
And you know what? After the third or fourth hunt, I actually started to enjoy myself. Hallelujah!