Easter is almost here, and what’s foremost in most of our minds? Chocolate, the Easter Bunny, jelly beans, colored eggs, plastic green grass, brunch, bonnets, and if we have time to get around to it, there’s also this little thing called the Resurrection. For the purposes of this post, I don’t really care about the abandonment of religious meaning underlying many holidays or the coopting of religious holidays by commercial interests. I’m really interested in the dominant icons associated with holidays and fairy tales, especially those that we encourage children to believe up until they’re no longer gullible enough to sustain those beliefs.
Christmas has Santa, Easter has the Easter Bunny, St. Patrick’s Day has leprechauns, and Valentine’s Day has Cupid. Charles Schultz made a run at establishing the Great Pumpkin for Halloween, but it’s unclear just how subversive he was being. Children also believe in the tooth fairy, unicorns, the sandman, and all sorts of talking animals (thanks, Disney!). What connection these characters have with their respective holiday or activities is frequently confused, especially in the mind of a child.
As adults, we’ve mostly left all these beliefs behind (except, um, that one). Yet we perpetrate substantial frauds on children by encouraging them to believe in these magical characters. What we find charming and innocent in a child’s willingness to believe may not be so innocent on inspection, and many parents feel some sadness when their children no longer believe in, for instance, Santa. I remember my own mixed emotions when I “found out” about Santa: there was a sort of elation that I was growing up and thinking more like an adult and resentment that my parent had lied to me for no apparent reason. The clumsy steps we took to hide the truth from our younger siblings was laughable in hindsight, except that it’s also a little tragic. My transition wasn’t traumatic, but I’ve been hearing more and more stories from resentful adults who were confused as children as to why, for example, on Easter, when we ostensibly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we also have some mute, human-sized bunny running around hiding eggs. (And where do the eggs come from? Other bunnies? It really is that confusing to a kid.) The really terrifying story is the fundie kid who comes home after school to an empty house and believes he/she was left behind when the rest of the family was “raptured up” to heaven.
Kids’ imaginations are terrifically fertile ground. In fact, their brainwave patterns up to the age or 8 or 10 (or thereabouts) indicate that they exist in a waking dream state such as adults experience in sleep. That makes them incredibly vulnerable to manipulation. Yet we have these traditions, shifting slightly but mostly deepening over time, where we smile approvingly on children’s adoption of our deceptions. And for whose enjoyment?