For those who use as their calendar that great barometer of the year, i.e., the seasonal sales displays in retail stores and supermarkets, the passing of February’s red hearts for St. Valentine’s Day (or green shamrocks a month later for St. Patrick’s) makes way for Easter baskets and egg coloring kits. Indeed, for those of us who keep Lent, those baskets have almost a taunting quality—redolent of bunnies and ducks and lambs and ham, all while we are trying not to think of sweets and meat.
But for all of that, Easter is a retail dwarf compared to the superstar of merchandising, Christmas. As we know, in recent years, Christmas creep has caused the Christmas displays to start ever earlier, crowding out Thanksgiving entirely and backing up against Halloween—which itself has taken Easter’s place as the second great spending period with quasi-religious roots. Of course, if Thanksgiving is a victim (outside of supermarkets, which still must sell turkeys, after all) Advent dwells with Lent in a sort of phantom zone (save in places such as Louisiana, where restaurants emphasize their fish dishes during the penitential season). At any rate, Easter is a somewhat meagre runner-up in the secular calendar. In many foreign countries with a tradition of established Christianity, Easter Monday remains a secular holiday. But as it has long since ceased to be a Holy Day of Obligation (along with Easter Tuesday) in most countries, Easter Monday in such areas is usually treated as just another spring day off.
When I was a boy, however, Easter ran second only to Christmas in the public-attention department. Public schools featured Easter Egg hunts, and the egg coloring displays dwarfed the little ones we know today. The Easter Bunny was Santa’s great rival, complete with television specials and songs all his own—and limited though his wares were in comparison to those of the right jolly old elf of Yuletide, we kids rushed to the door to find the Easter baskets he had left quite as quickly as we rose to see what had been left under the Christmas Tree.