Easter comes in so many colors

Published 7:49 pm Saturday, March 26, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Easter is designated as the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the first day of spring. While that may sound a bit confusing, basically it means that spring is early this year, even if it's snowing.
But "weather" or not spring has sprung, preparations for the Easter season have been underway in the community.
Egg hunts, peeps and jelly beans, Easter baskets and bonnets, and family get-togethers fill our thoughts and crowd our schedules.
Preparations affect members of the Niles community in many different ways. From getting ready for a family gathering to stocking the store shelves with egg-shaped goodies to watering large quantities of Easter lilies, the Easter season has many facets.
Years ago, the traditional Easter included buying that special once-a-year Easter outfit. For women and their daughters that meant a new hat, a new dress with matching shoes, and, of course, new white gloves. Today's Easter fashions are a bit more relaxed and the gloves are out, but the Easter "bonnet" is still popular even among the newest generations.
While shopping at the Niles Wal-Mart, which can provide a large variety of Easter shopping needs, Hannah Barnes, one and a half, was more interested in the colorful hair ribbons and barrettes than in trying on a frilly Easter hat. Her mom, Amy Barnes of Cassopolis, with whispered encouragement from bystanders, succeeded in keeping a hat on her head only long enough for a quick photograph.
In addition to clothing and accessories, one of the main commercial draws for Easter is candy. Chocolate bunnies, Peeps, and Cadbury eggs are some of the biggest sellers.
Chris Deno, co-manager at Wal-Mart, keeps track of the candy aisle. He checks the packages of Peeps, which are sugar coated marshmallow chicks in bright colors, to find that only 25 are left out of 70 packages they just ordered. And that was almost a week before Easter.
Deno's personal favorite Easter treat is "a chocolate bunny, ever since I was a kid. I don't go for the gummy things."
Mary Jane Davis, who works in both the infants' department and helps with community projects on the other hand, has a different choice. "My grandmother made homemade candies and lamb cakes at Easter, but my favorite Easter candy as an adult is Cadbury eggs."
There are a host of choices filling the candy aisle. Everything from plastic chickens that lay candy eggs to the traditional jelly beans line the shelves.
Easter baskets
Baskets are also part of the Easter tradition. But the definition of "basket" has expanded in the last few years. Julia Hoskins, owner of Purple Rose Masterpieces located in "The Gallery" in downtown Niles, said "These days 'basket' is another word for container."
Hoskins creates custom-made baskets to fit any theme. "If you name it, we can put it in a basket," she said.
According to Hoskins, she even put her daughter in a big basket tied with ribbons and a bow when she was four years old. "She sat in the basket while we took her picture," she said.
Some of Hoskins' ideas for custom Easter baskets include food baskets filled with candies and Easter eggs plus healthier choices like assorted cheeses and crackers.
Her baskets with a religious theme have little prayer books for children or leather-bound bibles and special rosaries for adults. "There are these pictures from Europe that are hand carved from wood with religious themes on them," she said. She can also include glass statuary, sacred song books or Christian music cassettes and CDs in the gift baskets for Easter.
If the Easter basket is specifically for a man, Hoskins said, "You can put anything in there pertaining to golf and they'll love it." Hoskins paints golf balls in bright colors to look like Easter eggs.
Easter Lily
Another tradition at Easter is the fragrant and elegant white lily. Churches are filled with them on Easter morning and they are a standard gift for the season as well.
The Easter lily is a symbol of purity. Legend has it that white lilies were found in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent his final hours before being betrayed by Judas. It is said the lovely white flowers graced the ground where Jesus knelt and prayed.
The white lily is also associated with Jesus' mother, the Virgin Mary. In early paintings, she is offered a stem of white lilies by the Angel Gabriel.
Varner's Greenhouse and Nursery on Fir Road in Niles is filled with lilies and other colorful plants of the season each spring. Mary and Jack Varner have been in business for 30 years and requests for lilies are still going strong. According to Mary Varner, while lilies have always been the main flower of choice at Easter, bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths have increased in popularity as well.
Mary suggests that lilies are a good choice because of their ability to last longer. "Easter lilies hold up better than other bulbs," she said. Because they have multiple flowers on one stem, each flower blooms separately. And because bulbs like hyacinths and tulips are not meant for warm indoor surroundings, they have a shorter blooming period. "Lilies tolerate the warmth better," Varner said.
A note of caution with Easter lilies, though, is that they are poisonous to cats. According to the ASPCA's National Animal Poison Control, white lilies can cause kidney failure in felines, even in small quantities, if ingested. All parts of the plant are toxic to them.
Taking care of a large quantity of lilies is time consuming. Varners doesn't grow them on site. The greenhouse buys them "pre-finished but not open yet. They're ready to bloom" she said. The lilies are shipped from commercial growers located in Kalamazoo and Gobles arriving a week or two before the Easter weekend.
Many things affect the lilies they receive such as the time of year in which Easter falls and the weather at the time. The greenhouse is sectioned into "zones" so that each kind of plant can have its own climate for healthy growth. "Some zones are cooler than others," Mary said.
Various plants require different kinds of lighting as well. "Hanging plants like geraniums, petunias and New Guineas (similar to Impatiens) we hang higher to the light. We put begonias on benches underneath," she said, for a little more shade.
In addition to family members, it takes around eight employees to handle the plants, take orders, and work in retail, as well as two people to do the deliveries.
One of their largest orders this year was for 500 lilies which will be sold as a fund raiser. Varner's gives discounted prices to churches and non-profit organizations so the groups can sell them at a profit.
A visit to their greenhouse will delight the eye with long rows of lilies, hydrangeas, tulips and hyacinths, and flowers of all colors. The fragrance is noticeably sweet and even the sound of birds makes spring seem a little closer.
Wild birds from outdoors flit among the greenhouse rafters, chirping and singing. Linda Sarratore, an employee at Varner's said, "When we open the vents, they fly right in. They can be a little messy, though."
Chocolate bunnies
For chocolate lovers, Easter wouldn't be complete without a chocolate bunny or two. Eating chocolate bunnies has become an art to some people, both young and old and each person has their own method of chocolate bunny consumption.
For some, it's the ears that should be eaten first, followed by the head, saving the feet for last. For others, the reverse is true. Some people just start with the bunny tail.
No matter which way you choose to eat a chocolate bunny, you also have choices in choosing the form it comes in.
Chocolate bunnies come hollow or in solid chocolate and can also be found in a variety of pastel colors. They can stand on their own or be attached to a chocolate basket filled with jelly beans.
A local source for the bunnies, and many other Easter treats, is Veni's Sweet Shop at the corner of East Main and 3rd streets.
Veni's has been making their own chocolates since 1938 when Al Marazita opened the store in Niles. It had a soda shop on one side and a candy counter on the other. The soda fountain was removed in the 1970s and Veni's filled the store with chocolate and other candies.
Marazita had other family members in the chocolate business as well. Out of nine brothers and two sisters in the Marazita family, five made chocolate their profession.
Brother Paul opened a shop in Buchanan, Tony set up a business in Sturgis, and Joe was also in the chocolate business.
Al died in October of last year.
Mary Marazita, who is married to Al's brother Warren, has helped to run the candy shop for more than 35 years. She is a friendly face behind the counter that obviously enjoys visiting with her customers.
When asked if she ever got tired of the smell of chocolate, she replied, "no, absolutely, no. And I never get tired of eating it, either."
Easter time can get a bit hectic at the sweet shop. Mary said, "It is a lot of work making candy. We make just about everything from scratch. Right now we're making candy at night."
Mary won't reveal the suppliers for the chocolate they use, "That's a secret." But she does say that the store uses six different kinds of chocolate that they can blend or use separately to give their customers not only choices of flavors and colors, but the unique quality that Veni's is known for.
Veni's also carries other kinds of Easter candies such as jelly beans, chocolate eggs filled in a variety of flavors, and the popular "Smidgins" which are small bunny chocolates filled with peanut butter. They also stock the old fashioned sugar eggs that are frosted, with a scene inside the peephole.