Did you ever read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?”  I remember that book very clearly, as I remember most books from my childhood that made it onto the “read over and over” shelf.  One of the things I remember best about it — now that I’m a parent — is how Charlie Bucket’s family scrimped and saved each year to provide little Charlie with a single Wonka chocolate bar on his birthday.  This was a family that needed…well, pretty much everything.  As I look back on the story, I realize that Charlie had to need shoes.  He had to have needed new clothes, mittens, something practical every year at birthday time, and certainly he could have used a meal more square than the family’s nightly cabbage soup.  But when they’d saved up their pennies, his parents and grandparents didn’t offer Charlie any of those practical things.  They offered him candy.
It would be easy for me to roll my eyes and huff about it now, and moan about the poverty that exists in our own time and our own reality and the ways in which we as a society have failed to provide the basics of a healthy diet to all the Charlie Buckets of this millennium.  I could do that.  But I’m not going to, because I kind of agree with the Buckets.  I kind of get why they turned to candy.

No, I’m not reversing my position on people throwing candy at my kids — or any kids, for that matter — on any old occasion.  Not every day is a holiday.  And no, I don’t think most of us are in the same position as the Buckets, with such strict boundaries imposed upon us by circumstance that we simply CAN’T treat our children to candy and sweets more than once in a very, very great while.  But I can understand and identify with the one simple truth that makes “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” translate so perfectly to each new generation: Candy, when treated properly, when treated as a TREAT, is a sweet and wondrous little pleasure of life.

If you’re shaking your head at me, I’ll ask you to do something for me: Remove, for a minute, all the negative connotations the word “candy” conjures up for you.  (For me, I have to rid my mind of terms like “artificial dye,” “unhealthy rewards,” “bribery,” “overblown sugarfest,” “junkapalooza,” and “childhood obesity.”)  It’s not easy to ignore the negativity; after all, it’s where most of us live at least part of the time, as we’re trying to negotiate a sugary world without raising kids who end up hyped up on sweeteners and dyes until they’re acting more like candy-crazed monkeys than children.  But you can do it.  Stop thinking of the awful stuff, like Fun Dip, and start thinking of the good stuff.  Real chocolate.  Pillowy marshmallows.  Old-fashioned toffee.  Think of the smell of a good, old-fashioned candy shop, the kind that still makes their caramel in copper kettles on site.  And tell me that you’re not smiling just a little bit.

All this is by way of saying: There are times in our children’s lives to police them and their candy intake, and there are times when we might do well to think about the Bucket family and offer up some treasured, high-quality treat for no reason other than the fact that a little bit of good old candy — candy like it used to be, candy that hasn’t morphed into some disgusting nuclear-neon festival of artificiality — is a pleasant and lovely part of living a life with balance.  I feed my kids really well most of the time, and worry and wring my hands about the challenges of trying to protect them and our lifestyle from all the temptations out there, so that I can actually enjoy the “treat” moments with them when they come around.

This is a “treat” moment for us.  I know it’s not that way for everyone, and if you don’t do any kind of candy on Easter (assuming you celebrate Easter at all, of course), I respect that.  But we do candy.  Not lots of it.  Not exclusively.  But candy, yes, candy.  We enjoy some of the good stuff together and welcome Spring, and it’s a sweet, pleasurable time.  Without all the negativity about CANDY CULTURE (cue scary organ music) clouding my brain, Easter is a moment where we take a breath and enjoy a little bit of a Charlie Bucket moment.

This year’s baskets will contain Beatrix Potter books and Egglings, which are just little seedlings inside eggshells that the boys can plant in the yard when the weather gets warmer.  (Optimistically, I hope that we’ll end up with actual basil and strawberries from these things, but we all know what the reality is as far as my prowess with growing stuff.)  And they’ll also contain the candy.  I’ve already been to Whole Foods, where I can happily shop for dye-free, somewhat unjunked candy with impunity, and I was able to bring home a beautiful assortment of sweets that don’t make me cringe — sweets, in fact, that conjure up just a little bit of that Charlie Bucket sense of wonder.


Dye-free Easter Sweets: Chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, dark chocolate bunnies, dye-free jelly beans, and organic marshmallows on lollipop sticks, moistened with water and rolled in dye-free sanding sugars

Dye-free Easter Sweets: Chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, dark chocolate bunnies, dye-free jelly beans, and organic marshmallows on lollipop sticks, moistened with water and rolled in dye-free sanding sugars