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Greening the Easter Bunny.

Easter is the most important religious feast of the Christian year. But as with many other Christian events, the celebration of Easter extends beyond the church. Ancient civilizations celebrated Spring by feasting with family and friends, and pagan fertility traditions and symbols have, over the centuries, be come part of Easter celebrations. However, for many people today, it is just another commercial opportunity, benefitting greeting card and candy manufacturers. Unfortunately, most families' Easter celebrations are also orgies of excess packaging and unhealthy eating, tempting some to try to ignore it altogether.

But the season is fun for many children and invites those of us in the northern hemisphere to be optimistic about life and renewal, a sentiment that is much needed these days. In that spirit, here are some thoughts about creating a greener, healthier and more meaningful Easter, whether or not you celebrate the religious aspect of the occasion.

Eggs have been symbols of Spring probably since the beginning of human civilization. Ancient Romans and Greeks used eggs as symbols of fertility, rebirth and abundance. Eggs were also solar symbols and played a part in the festivals of various resurrected gods. The tradition of giving a chocolate egg to mark the end of Lent dates back to at least the 19th century. Giving candy eggs at Easter might seem like a harmless extension of that tradition, but it's one that can harm the health of both children and the environment.

Some FDA-approved food dyes are made from coal tar and other petroleum products, so they're not necessarily healthy or eco-friendly. According to Jane Hersey, Director of the Feingold Association, Easter candies can contain sodium Hexametaphosphate, Malic Acid, Blue 1, Mineral Oil, PGPR, Red 40, Magnesium Stearate, Yellow 5, Sorbitan Mono stearate, Blue 2, Polysorbate 60, Invertase, Yellow 6. Studies have shown that synthetic food dyes, artificial flavoring, and certain preservatives found in many candies and processed foods can trigger hyperactivity and attention problems in sensitive children. So read labels and buy natural jelly beans, chocolates and other candies at natural food markets. Also beware those waxy chocolate eggs and bunnies and look for the fair trade and organic chocolates that are becoming increasingly easier to find.

Hersey also suggests feeding your children breakfast before letting them indulge in Easter candy, in order to reduce the amount of sugar they eat. And replace some candy with dried pineapples, figs or dates, which are much more nourishing. You could also put a toy or stuffed bunny or chick in the Easter basket to help take the emphasis off sweets.

Dyeing your own real eggs can be a healthier substitute for candy. But beware of the dyes that you use. Most egg dye kits are labeled as non-toxic, but that doesn't mean they are free of harmful ingredients. Look for plant-based dyes instead. The most enjoyable and educational solution is to create your own natural dyes by experimenting with foods like spinach, orange peel and red cabbage (which produces a blue coloring, not red). To create a colored design on an egg using yellow onion skins, wrap the dry outer skins around a raw egg and hold them in place with a rubber band. Hard boil the egg, unwrap it and you'll have a lovely random design and rich orange/gold color on your egg. For a lovely pink egg, soak a hard boiled egg overnight in beet juice.

The baskets that traditionally carry all those eggs can be problematic too, all too often finding their way into the trash a few days after Easter. Look for alternative containers like small plastic wagons, dump trucks, book bags, toy carrying cases and other things that can have a second life after Easter. Small laundry baskets, recycling containers or wastebaskets can be decorated with stickers, markers, ribbon, fabric strips or raffia. And skip the petroleum-based plastic "grass" in favor of natural products like sprouted wheat grass or raffia, or recycled products like paper from your shredder.

Older children might enjoy foregoing the eggs and fuzzy chicks altogether in favor of a plant pot, some heirloom seeds and soil so they can grow their own herbs or small veggies.

The deliverer of the candy-laden Easter basket is traditionally the Easter Bunny. That tradition probably dates back to second century Europe, where the Saxon fertility goddess Eastre had the hare as her sacred animal. However, unless you live on a farm, you should probably avoid the temptation to bring home a live bunny. In the months following Easter, local humane societies and animal rescue organizations are flooded with Easter gifts whose recipients were ill-prepared to look after them and have tired of the novelty. The unlucky ones are dumped outside where predators, cars, illness and injury virtually guarantee an early death. Ditto for ducklings and chicks as gifts, which are cute and fuzzy, but not kid-friendly pets, and which also are abandoned by the thousands every Spring.

Members of your extended family might not be in agreement with your desire for a healthy, eco-Easter. Nevertheless, don't be afraid to share your concerns about too much chocolate, candy dyes or excess packaging with close relatives and friends. Give them some alternative suggestions. Or ask them to join in some fun activities, like experimenting with natural dyes on a few dozen hard-boiled eggs or participating in an Easter Egg hunt. Or hold a recycled Easter bonnet parade with everyone crafting a unique piece of headgear out of scrap materials.

Or plant some trees. Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai has called on people around the world to plant trees at Easter as a symbol of renewal and to protect the planet. "If it was a worldwide campaign it would be wonderful; you can imagine the millions of trees that would be planted," Maathai said when she received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Maathai, a Christian who has led plantings of 30 million trees across Africa to combat deforestation, thinks that an annual tree-planting drive could symbolize revival for all peoples. Easter is a good time, she says, because Christians believe that Christ was crucified on a wooden cross, which must have necessitated the felling of a tree.

One family we know stages a family Spring cleaning event on Easter weekend. They think up the chores at a family meeting and then write them on pieces of paper and put them into a big jar. Each person takes a slip of paper and runs off to complete the chosen task within a certain time limit. When their chore is completed, they take a fair trade chocolate egg from a second jar. With some energizing music on the stereo and everybody sharing the work, the cleaning is accomplished in a short period of time, often accompanied by lots of hugs and laughter.

Lastly, preparing and sharing healthy food is a great way to celebrate any occasion, especially the beginning of the growing season. Host a potluck with a theme, such as only local food, or one that puts you in touch with people in the developing world by using cookbooks like The More-With-Less Cookbook.

However you celebrate, have a Green Spring!
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Publication:Natural Life
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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