By GWEN OREL
Sean Spicer tweeted last March: “what I would give to hide in a bunny costume again.”
Spicer, the White House communications director, played the Easter bunny under George W. Bush.
Everybody loves the Easter bunny.
Vice President Mike Pence has his own bunny, Marlon Bundo, in residence.
The White House has had an Easter Egg Roll on its lawn for about 139 years, and has had an appearance by the Easter bunny at least since the Nixon Administration.
The White House Egg Roll is a custom, not a law, but it looks likely to stick around — even though the New York Times reported this week that the White House has ordered fewer commemorative eggs than usual and is behind on hiring talent. It’s unclear, according to the Times, whether Spicer will reprise his role.
Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus, is one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar.
It doesn’t have any obvious connection to eggs and bunnies.
The Rev. Campbell Singleton, of Union Baptist Church, 12 Midland Ave., said, “Resurrection is the heart and soul of the Christian faith. It is the ultimate expression of God’s power over evil, and death and the grave. At a time like this, where the world is so complex and convoluted with terrorism and different players on the world scene, we go to the resurrection to help remind us that however this plays out in Syria, Pakistan, North Korea, God has demonstrated his sovereignty over all the players over the earth. Our faith rests in that.”
But while Singleton’s church doesn’t hold an Easter egg hunt, Singleton has no objection to them.
In fact, he said, his 6-year-old-son had one at school.
So how does the rabbit figure in?
“We talk about Easter as a celebration of new life, and life over death,” said Betsy Richardson, director of Christian education at
Union Congregational Church, 176 Cooper Ave. “The imagery of eggs is a pretty obvious symbol. Rabbits reproduce so prolifically that they are also a symbol of that.”
Richardson said that while she doesn’t recall ever talking about the connection with young children, she does with middle school children, who no longer believe in the Easter bunny.
Once she had children draw pictures of what Easter meant to them. Children drew families around a dining table, crosses, and Easter baskets. “For that age kid, and probably even younger, it’s all jumbled in together,” Richardson said.
Montclair has at least three live Easter bunnies that give candy to children.
On April 8, Mr. Bunny, aka Renée Baskerville, appeared in Glenfield Park in an event sponsored by the Department of Recreation & Cultural Affairs, in conjunction with PBA Local 53.
This Saturday, April 15, the Easter bunny will make two appearances, both at 11 a.m.: at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 73 South Fullerton Ave., and at Watchung Plaza in an event sponsored by Family Chiropractors, where the bunny is a teenager.
PLAYING THE BUNNY
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville has been playing the bunny since 2008, she said. “Last week I did Tucker Turtle too,” Baskerville said. “He’s a turtle that helps preschool-aged children learn appropriate behaviors, and deal with anger and disappointments.”
For Baskerville, celebrating seasonal things often includes dressing up: she’s an elf in the winter. “It’s another way of expression, bringing people together in happy situations, taking them away from the harsher realities in life.”
Baskerville has been Big Bird and a Dragon too, she said.
She makes a distinction between Easter’s religious meaning and the way the bunny costume welcomes springtime.
“Especially in a township like Montclair, where there are so many religious beliefs and different backgrounds, I try not to equate the bunny to Easter.”
She said she puts on the fluffy suit “for the joy, connection with children and spring. I might do a deer costume one year.”
It’s not always easy being furry: “It gets very hot. If the weather is hot, it’s hard to go down and up, to take pictures on their level.” The bunny does less lifting than it did once, she said.
There’s no connection at all between the Easter holiday and Jayne Mizraji, who said she has sponsored the Watchung Plaza Easter bunny appearance for about 23 years.
“I’m as Jewish as they come,” said Mizraji. For her, the Easter bunny is about spring and childlike joy.“I love to see the kids’ faces when they sit on the bunny’s lap.”
About 2,000 plastic eggs filled with jelly beans and prizes are hidden around the green at Watchung Plaza. Then a fire truck comes with its sirens, “while the kids are singing and carrying on,” she said. “On a beautiful day it’s the best.”
The eggs are prepared by students at the Deron School, a special-needs school in Montclair. Teacher Wendy Lieberman has the students do learning projects connected to the eggs, such as counting or dexterity, Mizraji said.
People descend on the Plaza quickly: “At 20 of, nobody is here. At 11 a.m., I’m knee deep in people,” she said with a laugh. Really, the event is for the parents, who want to get a picture of their child with the bunny: “I’ve got to tell them 100 times, don’t knock the other kids over.”
Kevin Henning, 18, who will play the bunny again this year, doesn’t see the faces, because he can’t see out of the costume. His older brother played the bunny before him but then grew too tall.
Henning, a senior at Bergen Tech, said “I just hear the kids laughing and having a good time.” Some children are scared, and some babies cry, but “moms put them on my lap anyway.”
Henning remembers being terrified of the Easter Bunny when he was little — bunnies are not meant to be the size of people — but his father calmed him down.
“It’s a way to bring the community together,” he said. He has told his friends and his teachers about his furry day job: “The teachers think it’s pretty cool. The kids think it’s lame and funny.”