Monday, 13 April 2009

Missing the Easter Bunny

Well, I’ve tried to celebrate Easter in English style again, but I can’t help thinking back with fond nostalgia to how we celebrate it in America, and I think that comes up trumps.

I love it here in London but I do think that children would surely enjoy a visit from the Easter Bunny more than what seems to be such a serene holiday here. Although I do acknowledge one perk in having such a long weekend here, whereas at home, some regions take Easter Monday as a bank holiday (not that we call them that) and others take Good Friday, but none take both.

Here, Easter seems to mean eating Hot Cross Buns, which I hate, but I bought some low fat ones that I mistakenly thought might be whole wheat versions and not have so much icky orange peel in them, but they were pure poisonous white flour and just as awful as always. Plus, when you think about it, they don’t do what it says on the tin. They’re not hot; you have to toast them. I’m surprised there’s no EU Directive outlawing that claim. Not that it genuinely worries me, it’s just an observation; no doubt the name stems from the old nursery rhyme where a seller is selling them hot.

Easter here also means going to the shop and buying a big single big commercial chocolate Easter egg branded Mars or Cadbury or something ordinary and handing it to your child. How dull, compared to the wonderful Easter egg hunts we had as children, after the Easter Bunny (rumoured to be a relation of Santa Claus) hid coloured real eggs and plastic eggs containing candy for us to seek out and enjoy.

At home, we would, supervised by adults, boil eggs and then dip them into food dye, use stencils and other things provided in egg-decorating kits to make remarkable patterns and exciting little eggshell works of art. Then our parents would assist the Easter Bunny by buying loads of hollow plastic eggs that split in two so they can be filled with jelly beans, an Easter staple, and little edible coloured bunnies made of marshmallow as well as small foil-wrapped chocolate and mini candy eggs. Our parents would also buy standard Easter grass, stringy bright green plastic stuff, and then hide bunches of the stuff throughout the house or, if the weather was lovely as it usually was, throughout the garden, with said candy-filled plastic eggs and dyed hard-boiled ones nestled on each patch.

We were given brightly coloured Easter the baskets in the morning, sometimes along with a cute stuffed bunny rabbit (not a real one of course). Then we would have the joy of rushing around the house or the garden and discovering with glee hidden clumps of Easter grass with eggs on it—plastic and dyed. We would fill our baskets with them and later pig out on the candy (I don’t recall ever actually eating the dyed eggs; that wasn’t the point), but the joy was in the hunt. It was delightful and exciting and a wonderful tradition. Sure, sometimes in June my mother would move some furniture and find some Easter grass with old jelly beans or marshmallow rabbits inside a plastic egg, but that stuff has a long shelf life as it’s hardly made of delicate organic fruit. Or there was that time when we went to church and returned to find that the dogs had done the Easter egg hunt for us and neglected to share the candy. (NB please never give your dogs chocolate as it is toxic to them!). It’s a fun, bright, happy Spring holiday, and although candy is involved, you have to work for it to this degree, and even children realise that’s not what it’s all about.

I don’t necessarily mean they focus on the religious element any more than over here. Indeed, the religious importance of the day seems to be more at the forefront over here, although I think that stems more from the traditions observed on certain days, such as having pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and so forth, because the church and state have been linked for centuries. I don’t recall Lent being so widely observed at home, for instance, with colleagues or fellow pupils discussing what they might give up for it.

It was sweet to hear Dame Judi Dench on Aled Jones’ Radio 2 programme this morning speak of her excitement about this holiday, which she said she loved about as much as Christmas, as Christmas was special but brought with it a great deal of stress and anxiety in the planning, whereas I suppose this was just a calm celebration. That was despite the fact that she was working hard giving numerous performances over the long weekend, including Easter day, in the play Madame De Sade, to which she has returned following a fall when she sprained her ankle. She also loved that Easter meant she could indulge in whatever she had given up for Lent, which this year was chocolate and potatoes. The latter she said she loved more than chocolate, more than lobster even.

I must confess I gave up nothing for Lent this year. It sort of passed me by; I was sick on Shrove Tuesday so couldn’t partake of the traditional pancakes and then time rushed past before I remembered that I should have made some sacrifice. And really all that would have made a difference would probably have been my Chai Tea Lattes, and then I would have either had a nervous breakdown or not bothered to go into work, as that is the carrot on the stick that gets me from the station to my office (see previous blog), and then I would have been sacked and my cats and I would be homeless and I would be bankrupt. So maybe that’s too big a sacrifice. But we don’t need that to prove that I’m perhaps not the best of Christians.

Even though I was less religious, if not agnostic, at home (not that I would think of myself as being particularly God-fearing now but, having lost some dear ones, I somehow have to have a bit more faith now and I never let a day pass without counting my many, many blessings) we would go to church on Easter. Everyone went to church on Easter, even if you never darkened its giant doors any other time of the year. Strangers would flock in, much to the undoubted irritation of the regular congregation who suddenly found that they could not get a pew, and the doors would have to remain open as the crowd spilled out onto the ground in front of the church. I’m surprised they didn’t put up big screens and speakers outside so the people who couldn’t cram themselves into the church could share the experience more from there. Maybe they do that now. But somehow, even if you couldn’t quite make out what the vicar was saying and couldn’t manage to get down to take communion, you could tick an important box to say that you’d gone to church on that holy day, for whatever your reason.

Here, although church seems to be discussed more and more people seem to be openly Church of England (like Episcopalian, as I am in the States) owing to the historical and still present link to the state--whereas at home, one never dares make assumptions about one’s faith because there are so many different accepted and common denominations--I don’t know of anyone who was planning to go to church today. Obviously, some people do.

I might even have felt inclined to go out of tradition, out of a need perhaps to seek some comfort and no doubt many other wrong reasons, but I would feel such a stranger, I would never have the courage. What if I stand when I’m meant to kneel? What if they have some rule where newcomers have to sing a solo? What if they don’t provide the words for the hymns so I can’t even lip sync as usual? What if I put a pound coin in the collection plate and it turns out the norm is a £20 note now? What if everyone stares at me because I’m the only stranger? What if I nod off and snore? What if I’m the only one who turns up at all? Fear of the unknown keeps me out of church today more than the desire to sleep in or just be lazy. A beautiful church is just around the corner and I pass by it every evening, reading the posters on the board about its different services and welcoming recitals and coffee mornings, and I almost want to belong a bit more, but then again it isn’t really me. I’m not sure where this feeling comes from. But I do what I need to from here.

...And in addition to that, I have listened to the odd radio and television show where church choirs sing Easter hymns, although I felt less inclined to enjoy the Easter Songs of Praise than I might, despite some beautiful soloists’ performances, as I seem to recall hearing that they filmed these Easter specials in December or something. A similar revelation many years ago about Jools Holland’s New Year’s Eve Hootenanny programme, which is filmed in November with everyone just pretending to count in the new year and toast it with champagne, means I don’t bother to watch that anymore and just record it. If they can’t be bothered to be there live for me, why should I be there live for them?

But I did half listen to part of Songs of Praise, and I did half listen to some things on the Beeb radio, and I half heartedly ate hot cross buns and I ate some of an organic dark chocolate egg, which I was disappointed to see was not also Fair Trade, and I freaked my cats out with a little toy chick that chirps like a real one when you place it on your hand. And I’ve hummed much of the soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar and have been fairly productive in getting a few things done around the house, yet quietly, as it seems wrong to hammer or run washing machines or anything like that on Easter. So I guess I’ve observed it in my own way, but even at the age of 42, I rather wish I was racing around my grandmother’s garden gathering hidden eggs. And if I had children, I would certainly do my best to recreate that American tradition over here. It is a delight that I highly recommend. And kids are too lazy these days! Make them work for their Easter candy, don’t just hand them a big chocolate egg! They’ll thank you for the challenge, I’m sure.

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