I shouldn’t love Easter. Raised a Jewish-Atheist, I have zero relationship to the Christ-is-Risen aspect. Plus my dad tells horror stories of annual beatings by Catholic boys when he was growing up in the Bronx — “Get the Christ killer!” I hate Christmas. On Independence Day, I love the fireworks, but hate the “bombs.” On Thanksgiving, I love the feast, but then there’s the pilgrims, indigenous people, and a small matter of genocide.
But I love Easter. Because of our non-traditional really, really fun Easter Egg Hunt. We haven’t done it for a few years: people lost interest, grew up, moved away, died. But we’ll do it again someday, it’s too good not to. And when we do, here’s how it goes:
11:30 A.M. Easter Sunday
The extended family gathers at the Lutz Family House in the Marin County woods. This two-bedroom cabin, located on what used to be called “Jew Hill,” was built in 1902 as the summer retreat for a rich San Francisco family whose Pacific Heights mansion is now open thrice-weekly for tours. The Lutz Family House, significantly less palatial, stands with no foundations and limited insulation in a beautiful oak forest with a view of Mount Tamalpias. It’s rustic and charming and sliding down the hill.
We eat first to satisfy my parents’ rule of “Food before Sugar”: room temperature capellini, kasha, hard boiled eggs, bowls of green salad, sliced avocado, daikon and red radish, sourdough bread and Blue Cambazola cheese. We fill our plates and perch on chairs inside or outside on the covered porch. We talk, laugh, eat — Dad puts on the coffee, regular and decaf.
The youngest person begins to whine. It’s taking too long to eat. We clear the table to the kitchen sink (no dishwasher, Dad will do them by hand later. . . no, no, don’t help, he has “a system”) . . .
. . . and it’s time to begin! We divide into teams of Hiders and Hunters. Age doesn’t matter, though little kids (when there are any) tend to like hunting. I like to hide. If you’re a Hunter, you go out the back door, past the rack of Mom’s old belly-dance and flamenco costumes, and hang out on the back patio by the defunct stone fireplace. The plum blossoms aren’t in bloom anymore, but the forget-me-nots should be out. If you’re very quiet, you might see deer — they wait for my mother who feeds them apples from her hands. But of course you aren’t quiet — it’s a party! You talk it up while we Hiders do our thing.
We organize the candy and review the guidelines. Hiders can only hide things in the living/dining room and out on the porch. All candy and eggs must remain “technically” in plain sight. We can tuck things in the Venetian blinds so long as a corner is peeking out, under the couch so long as it’s visible if you lie down, and so on.
The hiding begins — Hiders stoop to put things on the floor, stand on chairs, color-match jelly beans to plants, artwork, and shoelaces, because every Hider hides at least one item on his or her body. My Grandpa Jack used to balance a small chocolate egg on the bowl of his unlit pipe. Back when he was alive. Back when men smoked pipes. “No eating!” “I’m not eating.” “What’s that in your mouth?” “Busted.”
The Hunters are restless. They cluster in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. “Five more minutes!” “But we’re cold. Hurry up!” We shoo them back outside, scuttle to finish the hiding.
Mom passes out paper shopping bags, the Hunters surge through the doorway, and the hunt is on. Little kids team with grown-ups, older kids (and pushy grown-ups) are warned to leave the lower, more obvious items for the little kids, if you point at something you can’t reach, it’s yours, and somebody will help you get it. In the living room, jelly beans slide behind the furniture as Hunters dive for them. On the porch, a hard boiled egg cracks when it falls off my Dad’s perpetual motion machine onto his metal lathe or band saw. The Hunters wind down. “I see three more!” a Hider calls. “Here?” “Warmer. Colder.” Then we’re done.
And now the fun begins. Each Hunter gets to keep one favorite item, a big chocolate egg, a special candy bar. The Hiders have presumably cheated and already gotten their treats. Dad spreads an old queen-sized sheet on the worn living room carpet, and everybody dumps all the booty from the bags on the center of the sheet. It’s an enormous mountain of candy.
We sit on the floor around the sheet, Hiders, Hunters, babies, Grandparents, broody teens, admiring the pile of Mayfair eggs; chocolate buttercream eggs; hundreds of foil-wrapped small chocolate eggs in pink, blue, silver, gold, pale green, purple; Bordeaux eggs; chocolate suckers; jelly beans in all flavors and colors; marshmallow eggs; yellow and blue marshmallow Peeps; chocolate-marshmallow bunnies; silly putty eggs; dyed hard-boiled eggs; Cadbury caramel eggs; big hollow chocolate bunnies; small solid chocolate bunnies; chocolate hearts; chocolate carrots; chocolate dice; chocolate coins, white sugar eggs with scenes inside; chocolate covered matzohs (our nod to Passover); pink and purple Hershey’s kisses.
The oldest goes first. She gets to choose one big thing, two small things, or five jelly beans. “Wait! Don’t eat it!” “I can eat it if I want, it’s my candy!” Now the next oldest. All the way down the line. “I’m older than you, right?” “1949.” “I’m 1946. Ha ha, youngster!” Around and around the circle we go, choosing candy until all that’s left are banana-flavored jelly beans and cracked hard-boiled eggs. Then we switch to ten jelly beans or two real eggs on each turn.
And now it’s time for the Big Trade-Off. We arrange our loot in rows, into small stores. “I’ll give you a Cadbury caramel for a Bordeaux.” “Are you insane? Throw in a Mayfair and we’ll talk.” Dad has cornered the market on Marshmallow Peeps or gold foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, moving so subtly nobody has seen him do it. If it’s a good year, he has what everybody wants. Some years he miscalculates, and is stuck with junk nobody will trade for. “Purple jelly beans! Who wants purple jelly beans! I’m looking for gold coins!” somebody calls out. People laugh, laugh, eat candy, laugh, swap candy, play with candy. Until we’re tired.
And that’s it. Half the adults don’t even eat sugar; the candy isn’t the point, anyway. They pass their candy to the rest of us, and everybody, Hiders and Hunters, satiated with sugar and/or laughter, starts the slow process of getting ready to go home. A last cup of coffee, a forgotten pair of sunglasses, piles of dishes in the kitchen, sticky jelly beans that my dad will discover months from now, hiding under the bookshelves, covered in dust bunnies.
I want our Egg Hunts back. Our family isn’t big on competitive sports; no, our games are more insidious and subtle. They usually involve intellectual, political, artistic pursuits — outsmart, out-quip, out-dramatize, out-suffer. And yet on Easter, time of Spring Solstice, new life, rebirth — we play. A family needs to play.