Easter is almost here. What does that mean for you? Christian tradition celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus and marks the end of Lent, which is a period of fasting or giving up certain treats. During the Easter Season, families have many celebratory traditions, such as egg hunts, Easter parades, and festive family dinners. And there is the matter of Easter candy...
Many children in the United States wake up on Easter morning to baskets filled with candy and colored eggs, along with toys and other special treats, all from the “Easter bunny.” Although bunnies and rabbits do not appear in Christian stories, they began to be part of Easter traditions in the 1600s. Early drawings of rabbits at Easter show the floppy-eared creatures delivering toys and eggs in baskets to Christian families. Although many children in mission countries do not relate this holiday to baskets filled with toys and candy, on one of my mission trips, I brought the tradition to children in Africa.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, my hometown, is also home to the famous Just Born Quality Confections Peeps®. In fact, the Just Born factory is located within walking distance from my home! The owner of Just Born had supported my mission work in the past. In return, I thought it would be a fun idea to share his product with the children of Africa at Easter time. So I packed a suitcase full of Peeps® marshmallow candies in the shape of chicks and bunnies, and headed off to eastern Africa as a missionary Easter bunny!
One day, as we ventured into a remote village, one of the Sisters said to me: “This is the perfect time to bring out those candies.” The Sister went on to explain that the children had never experienced candy before, let alone colorful and creative candies like Peeps®.
We visited individual homes, sat and spoke with families, and, when leaving, surprised the children with the Peeps®. Not only were the children excited, but the parents were as well. The parents were overjoyed that their children were able to experience such a fun creation! At first the children giggled and squeezed the Peeps® as if they were toys going to make noise. It was in that moment that I had realized the children did not know that these Peeps® were able to be eaten. The looks on their faces when we told them to take a bite was indescribable. I can still see the marshmallow covering their mouths and fingers while they fought between chewing and smiling so big. It gave me so much joy to see how something that is often anticipated by children on Easter morning here in the United States took the African children by surprise. In that moment I truly felt as if I had traveled 8,000 miles as the Easter bunny, bringing some sweet joy!
On the ride from our village visit, the Sisters and I shared our reactions to seeing not only the children, but also the parents so in awe at these Easter treats. As a parent, I’ve personally experienced the reaction of my child having her first Peeps® on Easter morning. What excited me the most about the experience in Africa was seeing the parents reacting to this U.S. Easter tradition, and their experiencing this with their children for the first time. I remember joking with the Sisters and saying that the parents will not know how to react to their children being “sugar-high” after eating all of those Peeps®!
In the coming Easter Season, in our own experiences of the familiar with the new, may we always find joy – and the sweet and Sacred Heart of our Risen Lord!
“Hol(l)y Headlines!” ~ a bit of a play on words ~ is an "Extra! Extra! Read All About It" call to build missionary momentum as part of our ongoing effort to educate and motivate the next generation of the Catholic Church's missionaries. The blog's author, Holly Benner, is National Coordinator for the Missionary Childhood Association. She's also the mission education coordinator in her home Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania. She has a passion for the missions and experience in making mission real at the diocesan level. For 10 years, Holly traveled frequently to Africa as president of a faith-based non-profit that she founded, one focused on developing sustainable water resources among poor communities.
YOU ~ as the 'Easter bunny'!
What is your favorite Easter treat? Chocolate bunnies are tops for some, with one article suggesting that 80 percent of those who enjoy this Easter treat begin by eating the ears first! This Easter Season, be the "Easter bunny" to children in the Pope's missions.