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Families prepare for Easter traditions

There is more to Easter than chocolate bunnies

The Heath family shops through the Easter section of Target on Dawson Road Saturday. Pictured are, from left, Ryan, Holly, Robin and Kaitlyn. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

The Heath family shops through the Easter section of Target on Dawson Road Saturday. Pictured are, from left, Ryan, Holly, Robin and Kaitlyn. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — Easter is coming up fast and young moms and dads are shopping for special treats and baskets in which to place those treats. A look through the designated “Easter shelves” at stores can reveal a cross section of what American kids be waking up to Easter morning.

Over the years, spending has increased for Easter. After dipping from $14.4 billion in 2008 to $12.7 billion the following year, spending has steadily increased each year, reaching $17.2 billion last year, according to surveys conducted for the National Retail Federation.

The NRF found 83.1 percent of Americans planned to celebrate Easter, with the total spending about midway between Mother’s Day ($20.7 billion) and Father’s Day $13.3 billion). The average person celebrating the holiday in 2013 spent just over $145, flat with 2012 after steady increases from 2009’s $116.59. According to the NRF’s 2013 survey, about $20.66 of that amount was going for candy, including such favorites as chocolate, candy Easter bunnies, Peeps and jelly beans.

Keri Johnson, however, doesn’t put a lot of stock in holiday commercialism, she said, or even chocolate bunnies. Shopping at Target Saturday, she chose a comely stuffed lamb for her children — Caleb, 9, and Emily, 3. A devout Christian, Johnson said the lamb provides more meaning to commemorate the day, which is the holiest on the Christian calendar.

“My Easter basket revolves around Christ,” Johnson said, “because He rose for us and He’s the reason for Easter. The lamb is the real symbol.”

According to Johnson, her children will receive one “learning toy,” probably an interactive Bible in Caleb’s basket. They’ll also have what they like, probably movie videos, not necessarily related to the holy day. Sweets, in general, will be minimized because the children have “plenty the rest of the year,” and because her kids “aren’t even that crazy about them.” Johnson said.

“The Easter bunny is fun and games and the Easter bunny brings us presents, but ultimately my kids will know that Jesus is the reason we celebrate Easter,” Johnson said.

Like Johnson, Holly Heath, another shopper Saturday, says she tries to hold down her children’s candy consumption.

“It makes them a little too hyper,” Heath said. “I stick with little toys and trinkets like yo-yos — whatever I see I think they’d like. Sometimes when we do the Easter egg hunts, we put little coins in the plastic eggs.”

Heath said she doesn’t go in much for stuffed animals because at her house “they tend to multiply.”

Decorated, brightly colored baskets are available at Target and other retailers, ready to pack with goodies such as candy, “bubble stuff,” crayons, toys, stuffed animals and plastic eggs — the apparent centerpiece of a child’s Easter experience. There are eggs that look like baseballs, footballs and basketballs. Easter eggs these days are pre-decorated with butterflies, birds, ribbons, glitter and just about everything else.

According to the NRF survey, U.S. consumers spend an average of $20.82 on Easter gifts, along with $9.49 on flowers and $9.11 on decorations. The biggest chunk of the $145.13 average is earmarked for family meals ($45.26), followed by new clothes ($25.91).

The Easter basket is believed to symbolize new life, rebirth and renewal, concepts associated with Easter’s resurrection story.

There is little agreement among historians as to the exact origins of most Easter traditions, though there’s evidence many of them started as pagan practices that were modified and incorporated into Christian use.

Many experts, for instance, believe the modern ritual of the basket comes from German folklore about the Easter hare. In those legends, a white hare would leave baskets filled with candies, brightly colored eggs and other goodies to be discovered by children on Easter morning.