Parents look to create a ‘magical’ Easter, as coronavirus changes the holiday celebration

In this file photo, Easter gifts are displayed in a Manhattan store.

Mario Tama | Getty Images

Wooden egg shakers from Amazon, a homemade rainstick made out of an old paper towel roll and some packets of oatmeal will be in 11-month-old Charlie Stackhouse-Frechette’s Easter basket this year.

First-time parents Jill and Nate Stackhouse-Frechette will be foregoing Easter outfits and pictures, an Easter egg hunt and, of course, visiting with family.

“This is our first Easter with a kid, so his Easter basket is made up of things we ordered online,” said Jill Stackhouse-Frechette, who teaches English as a second language online from her home in New Hampshire to children in China.

“And with a little imagination, and a whole lot of love, his holiday will be magical no matter what,” she said.

With just over a week until Easter, families like the Stackhouse-Frechettes are starting to plan for how to spend the holiday under the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic. With bans on large gatherings and stay-at-home orders, extended families likely won’t be gathering together or attending church services this Easter holiday. Some may opt for virtual meet-ups or watch livestream services. As for those Easter baskets, in the last month many retailers have shuttered their doors. This leaves consumers with fewer options this year.

‘A different Easter’

“It’s going to be a different Easter than we’ve seen in the past,” Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation, said. 

Typically, the NRF releases its Easter spending survey a few weeks before the holiday. Last year, the trade group estimated those celebrating would spend an average of $151 per person, and about eight in 10 U.S. adults were participating in the festivities.

This year, the organization has decided not to share that data, which was collected in early March, as the poll was conducted before the coronavirus’ massive spread in the U.S. and the unprecendented steps being taken to contain it. 

Still, Cullen foresees around 80% of people still celebrating the holiday despite the outbreak.

Bunnies are just what we need right now, as long as they’re cheap.

Kit Yarrow

Consumer psychologist

Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist, also predicts that consumers will be buying Easter goodies. 

“Bunnies are just what we need right now, as long as they’re cheap,” Yarrow said. “In other words, Easter — which is more like a celebration of spring rather than a religious holiday for many — has traditionally been a lower-cost holiday with strong emotional impact.”

Despite millions of layoffs and furloughs, consumers strapped for cash will make room in their budgets for some treats and decorations for their kids, she said. But they won’t be looking for extravagant gifts or experiences. 

Many will turn to online retailers to source the candy for their baskets or buy items online and pick-up at the store. 

“We’re certainly seeing a shift to online for a lot of people,” Cullen said.

Both Jelly Belly Candy company and Just Born, the company behind marshmallow Peeps, have said retailers will have plenty of candy available this year, as Easter products began shipping in December.

“On JellyBelly.com, sales are almost double what they were this many weeks ahead of Easter last year, indicating more consumers might be shopping for their Easter treats online,” a Jelly Belly Candy Company spokesperson told CNBC via email.

Not just jelly beans and chocolate bunnies

The focus for many will be on activities, not just candy. Parents are looking for ways to keep their children entertained since they are unable to attend school or meet up with friends during this time. 

Many towns have started hosting “bear hunts” and are planning “egg hunts” in local neighborhoods. Bear hunts are where neighbors place a teddy bear in one window of their house and children walk down the street to try and find them. The activity allows them to venture outside for fun and fresh air, but also helps keep them separated from others.

Egg hunts will be similar. Community members can print out and decorate a paper egg and either place it on the mailbox, on the outside of the house or in a window, so that kids can find them as they walk their neighborhood with their parents.

“Our town is doing an egg hunt,” said Ashley Tougas, a restaurant manager, who lives in Seekonk, Massachusetts, and is the mother of two young boys. “I plan on ordering candy and baskets either online or curbside pickup from Target. Trying to avoid going into stores these days unless necessary.”

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