For Christians, Easter is resurrection and salvation, the holiest day of the year. For children, Easter is colored eggs, baby chicks, and a giant sugar buzz (second only to Halloween), courtesy of a giant invisible rabbit who delivers baskets of treats in the dark of night. For chocoholics, Easter is biting the ears off of a solid milk chocolate bunny. But for me, Easter -- or rather the day after Easter -- is the beginning of a decades old ritual known as The Aging of the Peeps.
It all started when I was a child. Every year, the Easter Bunny (aka my Mom) would fill my basket to overflowing with goodies of all kinds, including no less than two packages of marshmallow Peeps. Soft, sticky, and cloyingly sweet, I learned early on that these little yellow chicks (this was way back when, before Peeps came in a rainbow of colors and shapes) were disgusting when consumed fresh from the package but became delicious when exposed to the air and allowed to grow stale and hard. And thus, the Aging of the Peeps began.
Of course, I didn’t call it that back then. The process of poking holes in the tightly-stretched cellophane wrapper and leaving the Peeps in a dark place to ripen had no official moniker in the beginning. It was almost twenty years later that I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who preferred to enjoy my Peeps well past their expiration date, and that the ritual had an official name.
My enlightenment happened when I was driving home from work one Ash Wednesday. I was only half-listening to the National Public Radio station that was always on in my car when the word Peeps caught my attention. I turned up the volume, and started to grin as I listened with utter delight to the narrator describe my Aging of the Peeps, from the proper way to violate the sanctity of the protective wrapper (the artful poking of holes instead of a crude slash) to the proper amount of time for the Peeps to ripen (46 days, the same amount of time that passes between the beginning of Lent and Easter Sunday).
The only point on which we disagreed was whether the Aging of the Peeps should take place before Easter or after. The narrator argued that the Peeps should be exposed to the air on Ash Wednesday so they can be enjoyed on Easter morning. The Purists, who discovered the joys of stale Peeps as young children, believe that the Aging of the Peeps should begin on Easter, the same day they received the treats in their Easter baskets. But the Cheapos like me know that Peeps age the best starting the day after Easter, when you can acquire them for pennies a box during the After Easter clearance sales.
I’ve already got this year’s brood of yellow candy chicks picked out. And on Monday, the HipHubby and I will get up early and head to the store where they’ll be waiting for me, their unblinking purple eyes bright with the promise of sugar rushes to come. Upon our return home, we’ll take a meat fork and gently but firmly poke ten holes in the wrappers of each box, being careful not to mutilate any of the Peeplets in the process. We'll tuck our treasure safely away in the dark to let the air works its magic. And then we'll wait.
May 21 can’t come soon enough.