Cities promote Easter-less egg hunts as 'inclusive'
09:51 PM PDT on Friday, April 22, 2011
By JOHN F. HILL
Hundreds of kids in Murrieta today will dive over one another for plastic eggs and have their pictures taken with a person in a rabbit suit, but there will be no official mention of Easter.
Same goes for today's egg hunt in Lake Elsinore, and last week's in Riverside -- where "Peter Rabbit" was said to have decorated the fields with candy and eggs.
The events have all the trappings of American Easter celebrations -- the pastel-colored eggs, the candy and the large white rabbit -- but are called "Spring Egg Hunt" or "EGGstravaganza."
A news release from Murrieta's Community Services Department invited kids to come have their pictures taken with "the bunny."
The city employees who put on the events say they try to keep Easter out of the equation to make the events appealing to Christians and non-Christians. Others argue it's a little absurd to organize a hunt for plastic eggs and pretend it's not about Easter.
Easter is a Christian holiday marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ, days after his crucifixion.
Recreation Coordinator Laura Frasso, who oversees Murrieta's egg hunt, said the city was trying to be as inclusive as possible.
"It's hard -- There's a very fine line with the whole church-and-state thing," Frasso said, "and we're just trying to make sure that everybody knows they're welcome."
Murrieta dropped references to Easter and other holidays for its events in the mid-90s, when public schools started to do the same with their holiday celebrations, Community Services Manager Debbie Tharp said. Atheist families had sued some public schools over the celebration of religious holidays in school around that time, she said.
So the Halloween Carnival was re-christened the Fall Festival. A month of events in December is now called "Holiday Magic" -- though the celebration does include Santa Claus.
The issue is not new. In Lake Elsinore, the annual egg hunt is associated with the Children's Fair, an event that focuses on the care and education of kids.
Maureen Foster-Davis, the city's recreation supervisor, said the event always coincided with Easter, but had been called the Spring Egg Hunt for at least 20 years.
Heidi Dodd, a Lake Elsinore resident who is Christian and has two sons, 8 and 15, said she wasn't bothered by the secular nature of the event.
She was glad the city was trying to do something for all kids, not just the Christian ones.
"To me ... this isn't Easter Mass, this is a spring celebration -- a way to bring the community together," Dodd said.
Riverside's city-sponsored celebrations, held at six public parks last weekend, avoided use of the word Easter in notices advertising the events. A separate egg hunt put on by the Riverside Downtown Partnership was called the "Downtown Riverside Easter Egg-stravaganza."
Riverside wanted to keep the event non-religious so people other than Christians could enjoy it, city spokeswoman Cindie Perry said.
"It's just more of an inclusive statement," she said. "We wouldn't want to exclude anybody from the fun."
There has been some pushback against the trend.
In Temecula, the city a few years ago made it official policy to drop the generic Spring Egg Hunt and call their event the Easter Egg Hunt, said Dawn Adamiak, senior recreation coordinator.
Temecula Councilwoman Maryann Edwards said the term Spring Egg Hunt was "political correctness run amok."
"Let's call it what it is," she said. "It's not a snake egg hunt and it's not a chicken egg hunt, they're called Easter eggs, aren't they? Just like they're called Christmas trees, not winter trees."
She said kids of all religions were welcome to participate, and pointed to Temecula's annual Menorah-lighting ceremony as another religious event the city took part in.
A few Christians have called Murrieta to complain about the lack of Easter in their egg hunt, Frasso said.
Murrieta Councilman Douglas McAllister, a former Christian pastor, said avoiding the word Easter didn't make much sense. It's obvious to anyone who attends the celebration that it's is about the Christian holiday, he said.
He said removing Easter diminished the holiday's importance, something he didn't want to do to any religious event.
"I wouldn't want to water down Ramadan, I wouldn't want to water down Hanukkah and I wouldn't want to water down Easter," McAllister said.
Though McAllister wishes the city would use the word Easter, he said there were more important things to be worried about. When the councilman goes to the city's event today, he knows what's going on.
"I don't go to the Eggstravaganza," he said. "I go to the Easter egg hunt."
Reach John F. Hill at 951-375-3738 or johnhill@PE.com