We hosted our first Easter egg hunt at the Watson household this weekend and I can report that it was a most satisfying experience… for the adults. Children do not seem to enjoy this ritual as much as the adults do. I can remember as a kid getting very upset because my parents would help my little sister. For the adults the hard part is not hiding the eggs. It is convincing kids to act like grown-ups which is difficult when considering what is taking place and what is at stake: competition and candy (maybe a little money, too). Feelings get hurt and kids stomp around and pout for a couple of hours. Where does this tradition come from? Are there elements that we have added to it in the U.S. that make the Easter egg hunt uniquely American? What does the Easter egg hunt say about us? As usual, I have not had time to research this topic, so I cannot answer these questions. I can say that when looked at through the prism of contemporary political and economic thinking, the Easter egg hunt can mean completely different things to different people.
At first glance, the Easter egg hunt might seem like a capitalist endeavor. Adam Smith or Milton Friedman might feel vindicated by one. Concepts like competition bringing out the best in the participants; the reward of hard work and self-reliance; and the satisfaction of coming away with a bigger bounty than everybody else are some of the potential lessons for kids who take part in an Easter egg hunt. If they were all like this, it might be called a conservative undertaking. But, given other realities, there are elements at work that would be applauded by John Maynard Keynes or Franklin Roosevelt. Children are benefited by the assistance of their parents. They are provided with the necessary tools (the basket) and training (pointing out where the eggs are). There is the possibility of learning about cooperation, kindness, and the importance of community.
The kids (or their parents) who come away with the most eggs in an Easter egg hunt would probably more inclined to draw lessons from the Smith/Friedman model of Easter egg hunting. The ones who come up short, the have-nots, would want their pleas for equality and fairness to be heard and their humanity to be recognized. Perhaps even some kind of restructuring of the social order would be called for. Of course, if kids were this analytical about an Easter egg hunt, there would be no joy in the world at all.