I always find it ironic that around this time of year, when we celebrate the rebirth of nature, most of the stuff we buy for our holidays is so ... unnatural. Browsing through the supermarket aisle for holiday items, I noticed plastic eggs (fake!), plastic Easter baskets (fake!), and a diabetic’s dream supply of Peeps (I guess the sugar is real?). Since Easter has evolved mostly into a children’s holiday, it bothers me that we are replacing such a great opportunity to build appreciation of the changing seasons and blossoming flowers with the same old plastic we see all year round, just with brighter colors.
If you celebrate Easter and want to do it in a more eco-friendly way, or if you are a parent who wants to seize a learning opportunity and avert the annual Peep-induced sugar rush, check out these tips for an all-natural Easter celebration.
Egg Hunt, Au Naturale
At every Easter egg hunt I’ve attended, the adults purchase plastic colored eggs, fill them with candy, and hide them for the children to find. Invariably, the kids shriek with excitement at the prospect of more sugar and seize the Hershey kisses with wild abandon, resulting in twenty or so hyperactive five-year-olds and a backyard littered with plastic egg halves. There has to be a better way.
There is. Buy real eggs, hard boil them (place in boiling water for fifteen minutes and then rinse with cold water) and once they cool, use natural dyes to decorate the eggs. Melissa Breyer of Care2.com, the largest online community for green living ideas, recommends these natural substitutes:
Red: Pomegranate juice
Orange: Yellow onion skins
Yellow: Lemon or orange peel, carrot tops, celery seed, ground cumin, or ground turmeric
Yellow Brown: Dill seeds
Yellow Green: Bright green apple peels
Green: Spinach leaves
Blue: Canned blueberries and their juice, red cabbage leaves, purple grape juice
Violet: Violet blossoms (finding and identifying these flowers can also be an excellent outdoor activity with children)
Lavender: Diluted purple grape juice, violet blossoms plus squeeze of lemon
Pink: Beets, fresh or canned; cranberries or cranberry juice; raspberries or raspberry juice
Some of the natural dyes require boiling with the eggs in order to reach a full color. There are plenty of color choices and dye sources to choose from, so play around with it. The longer you let the eggs soak in the dye, the more intense the color will be.
Breyer also recommends using your favorite egg-dying techniques, like crayons for a batik effect or rubber bands for a tie-dye effect. If you like a glossy egg, you can rub the dyed eggs with vegetable oil when they are dry. Involving children in the dyeing process adds to the fun and offers many learning opportunities for them. They will develop a physical reminder of the holiday and all the colors of nature.
If you live near farms, try getting your eggs fresh from the farmer, so kids can see where the eggs actually come from—and meet some chickens while they’re at it.
In addition to skipping the plastic eggs, making your own basket or reusing last year’s can cut down on the amount of plastic that ends up in the landfill. And if you’re inclined to don a bonnet, making one can be a fun and easy craft project.
Where Has All the Candy Gone?
I know what you’re thinking. How can you fit Hershey kisses into hard-boiled eggs? Well, you can’t, but maybe that’s a good thing. More than any other holiday—except maybe Halloween— Easter has become all about sugar consumption. From Peeps to chocolate bunnies, our kids are wired from the end of February right through the end of May. If you play your cards right, though, your kids won’t have to miss the sugar at all.
Eggs are a perfect symbol of spring. They are the seeds from which life grows and they offer the sustenance for that growth. Their oval shape also represents the cyclical nature of the changing seasons and the circle of life. Dyeing and hunting for real eggs is an opportunity to teach your children about how plants and animals are born and how the world renews itself each year through the seasons.
And even though they’re not chocolate, hard-boiled eggs do make tasty snacks, especially when they’re decorated in pretty colors like little gems. You never know, your child may discover a new love for this great protein source and realize that food is fuel as much as it is a treat.
Alternatively, you can make your own Easter candy, which will invariably have fewer artificial ingredients than the store bought versions, or opt to give non-candy springtime gifts, like jump ropes, flower or vegetable seeds you can plant together, or art supplies.
Easter dinner can be either a gluttonous binge or a celebration of everything the earth has to offer, depending on how you serve it. Most families have a ham at the centerpiece, and that ham is usually pumped full of nitrates. If you really want an all-natural Easter celebration, go for an organic ham or consider trying something new this year, like lamb, another sign of spring, or a vegetable main dish.
So many vegetables come into season this time of year, so why not make them the centerpiece of your meal? Visiting a farmer’s market is a great place to pick up your seasonal vegetables. Fresh asparagus, artichokes, fennel, spinach, purple-sprouted broccoli, new potatoes, and radishes are a welcome taste of the greener summer to come. Finish the meal with some seasonal fruit like a Rhubarb pie or orange cake, and your guests will be so wowed by the fresh tasty meal that they won’t even miss the ham.
Back to Basics
Our lives have become disconnected from nature. Most of us live in cities or suburbs with no concept of seasonal changes other than what we see outside of our office or car window. A global food market makes just about every item available all year round, so we lose our sense of seasonality in what we eat. Easter, in addition to its religious significance, is also the vernal equinox, the celebration of spring renewal. Only by removing the artifice that now clings to the holiday like pink sugar on a child’s face can we really get back to its roots.