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Gifts at Easter? Since when is chocolate not enough?

Easter products on display at Toy R Us at Eglinton Avenue and Yonge Street location on March 5, 2012, from various candy choices to a preprepared basket.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

You've spent a small fortune on your children's birthdays. You bought them new toys and clothes for Christmas. You gave them cards, cupcakes and chocolate for Valentine's Day. Now, just when you thought you had a break from gift-giving, it's time to shop for Easter presents.

Given the abundance Easter-themed toys, clothes, books and candies marketed ahead of the holiday, Easter is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. A scattering of foil-wrapped chocolate eggs doesn't cut it any more. These days, the Easter Bunny brings all kinds of little treats, from puzzles and crayons to bubbles and hair accessories.

"Right now, if you walk into … any grocery store, I'm finding Easter stuff already out," says mom-entrepreneur Shaheen Hirji of Coquitlam, B.C. "People tend to buy more because they're seeing more."

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Ms. Hirji, founder of the online store Organically Hatched, says a growing number of her customers order Easter baskets for children, filled with items like hair clips, brightly coloured leggings, dresses and plush toys, in addition to traditional Easter candy.

Chocolate and other sweets continue to be the most common treats for the holiday. But adults are increasingly bulking up their Easter offerings. "Instead of just buying the chocolates, they're doing a little bit more. They're adding a few extras," Ms. Hirji says.

Ottawa mother of two Nolie Smith says she doesn't "go all out" for Easter, but she does buy gifts. Last year, when her youngest child was not yet born, she spent about $100 on chocolates, chalk and bubbles for an Easter-egg hunt for her now four-year-old son.

"I think as your kids get older, you feel pressured to buy bigger or more presents for them, as with any holiday," she says. "When they are younger they are more excited about the Easter egg hunt and the family activities that come with the day. Yet as they get older, they care less about the overall event and more about what must-have item they are going to get."

Kerry George, vice-chair of the Canadian Toy Association, which represents manufacturers, importers and distributors across the country, says toy makers do see a small spike around the spring holiday.

The association did not have statistics on Easter sales. Ms. George estimates the majority of adults spend less than $10 on a gift.

"It's typically a lower price point set," she says, noting that puzzles, games and collectible toys, like Beyblade tops, are popular as they fit into Easter baskets. "Something that's still fairly small."

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At Toys "R" Us, however, spokeswoman Victoria Spada says Easter is the second biggest holiday of the year for gift-giving, next to Christmas. Two of the company's largest spring flyers revolve around the holiday.

In general, gift-giving is on the rise for all kinds of occasions, and the uptick in sales during Easter simply reflects that trend, Ms. Spada says.

"Parents and grandparents are always looking for ways to celebrate the little ones in their lives, whether it's rewarding them for good behaviour or during the holidays," she says.

In previous years, major toy makers have contributed to the Easter market with themed products like the Mr. Potato Head Spud Bunny, the Barbie Easter Sweetie Doll, and the Little People Easter Train. This year's hot new Easter toy is Hasbro's FurReal Friends Hop 'N Cuddle Bunnies, a battery-operated plush animal, Ms. Spada says.

Beyond the opportunity to surprise children, however, there's another major reason why adults are focusing more on lasting gifts than edibles: to avoid overloading them with sugar.

Caroline Fernandez, a Toronto-based contributor to the parenting website yummymummyclub.ca, says giving presents instead of treats for Easter has been a long-standing tradition in her family, going back to her own childhood. While the mother of three usually includes a snack, like a small chocolate bunny or popcorn, the main present she gives her children are books, stationery or activities that will occupy them while she makes Easter dinner. She estimates she spends between $10 and $20 per child.

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"Who wants to deal with kids on sugar highs on a holiday? Or leave out a child who has sensitivities with gluten, dairy, nuts or sugar?" she said by e-mail, noting a tangible present offers longer-term entertainment. "Holidays should be inclusive and less crazy (for kids and parents)."

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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