April 21, 2011 at 3:35 pm EDT | by JoAnn Greco
All about baskets

These days, it seems as if Santa Claus has nothing on the Easter Bunny when it comes to imagination. The floppy-eared bearer of goodies has in recent years upped the ante, and everyone from Martha Stewart to the average first grader has weighed in on what makes the perfect basket.

No longer are a mere half-dozen dyed eggs, one chocolate rabbit, and a packet of marshmallow chicks — all nestled in a fistful of bright green plastic grass — enough.

Of course, the three basic elements of every Easter basket remain. “You need a vessel, a liner, and, of course, stuff to fill it all up with,” says Sebastien Centner, director of Eatertainment, a Toronto-based catering company.

Beyond that, though, all bets are off. “Easter is the craftiest of holidays,” observes Jeanne Benedict, a party planner and former host of “Weekend Entertaining” on the DIY Network.

The options are endless, and enterprising basketeers have learned to put many a spin on the tried-and-true. Lately, that’s meant a predilection for curled ribbon or shredded newspaper to replace less eco-friendly choices like the very artificial turf of our own youth.

And, it’s certainly meant that the pink plastic dollar store basket of yore is a bore. Centner suggests substituting galvanized metal pails or jewel-toned stacking Japanese-style lunch boxes.

Or, he recommends, buy a real wicker or rattan basket and have kids paint it in their hue of choice. “Not only does this add variety to the same old, same old,” he says, “but it makes the whole thing more special. It encourages kids to actually keep it and use it all year round for storing art supplies or trinkets.”

However, one tradition must stay, Benedict says. “You have to keep the candy and the treats,” she says.

The fabled lapin may have a distinct fondness for carrots, but kids want goodies and lots of them, Benedict points out. Frazzled parents can look beyond gummy jelly beans and gooey Peeps, though.

“I like the idea of an Easter basket overflowing with cupcakes instead,” Benedict says. Tossing a recipe book and a few cake-decorating nozzles into the mix can turn the holiday into a baking adventure for the whole family, she adds.

If your kids insist on staples like foil-wrapped Easter eggs, jazz up your presentations. One year, Benedict decoupaged a tubular oatmeal container and stuffed it with candy, while Centner has filled cellophane piping bags with the pastel-hued sweet stuff, then tied them with contrasting ribbon.

Centner also believes that the best baskets contain a craft-making gift.

“Have kids form Play Doh eggs, and include decorations such as silver beads, mini jewels, and pastel-colored paints,” he suggests.

As for real eggs, Centner recommends dyeing them beforehand to save time and mess, and then encouraging kids to make the eggs their own by using washable markers instead.

Plastic eggs that unhinge to reveal tiny treasures are a great finishing touch, adds Benedict, who says they serve as ideal receptacles for anything from Matchbox cars to gross-out candy (banana-flavored jelly beans that resemble earwax, anyone?).

Many parents also use the surprise of the Easter basket to take care of spring “I want this, I need that” whines. The modern bunny trail is littered with items — from rolled-up T-shirts to coveted DVDs — once more commonly found under the Christmas tree.

“I’m a firm believer that anything you can put into a gift basket, you can put into an Easter basket,” says Benedict. Just don’t forget that candy.

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