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East, Easter, Eastest

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, March 24, 2005

Holy Week consists of seven days culminating with the most significant feast on the Catholic Church’s calendar: Easter Sunday. The week is filled with traditions – carrying palms into Palm Sunday Mass, the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday and the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. As a Catholic, I regularly observe all of these customs. However, from recent conversations with other students regarding the upcoming Easter break, it has become apparent that most families have also incorporated plenty of secular traditions into their Easter experiences. By partaking in both religious and non-religious rituals, we can observe Easter as both a Church holiday and a family holiday.The most obvious of the secular traditions is, of course, the Easter Bunny. The historical origins of the Easter Bunny are derived from the pagan festival “Eastre,” a celebration of spring and fertility. As we all know, the bunny is among the most fertile animals known to man, which caused 17th century Germans to incorporate the Easter Bunny into the holiday, to involve children in the celebration. The Germans are also credited with another tradition rooted in fertility: the custom of children receiving colored eggs.In my own family, we have always had the tradition of the Easter Bunny, even though we have not always believed in him. One of the more memorable nights in Acker Family lore occurred on Holy Saturday night when I was four years old. I refused to go to sleep, because I was strongly opposed to the idea of having a large rabbit hopping around my house, even if he was going to bring me treats. Desperate to get some sleep, my parents finally assured me that no animals would be coming into the house that night. Furthermore, they gave me the opportunity to thank them in advance for any candy or presents that I might find when I awoke the following morning. Nearly two decades have now passed since my parents confessed that, aside from the Cadbury commercials, bunnies don’t really have anything to do with Easter candy. Still, my mom continues to hide Easter baskets for both my brother and me every year, despite the fact that he is now 24, and I am 21.Another time-honored tradition that will be renewed this weekend is the Easter bonnet. As a little girl I always needed to have an “Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it” (as the Irving Berlin song goes), but I had just about outgrown the custom by the time I was 11 years old. However, after I beat my older brother in our Easter tennis match that year, I found the bonnet to have a second purpose. Never one to be praised for his good sportsmanship, my brother threw his racket in disgust after he lost, and it hit me square in the head. The bonnet was the perfect way to hide the bump that resulted from his little “John McEnroe moment.” Luckily, there have been no such incidents in recent years, seeing that I no longer wear bonnets.Another favorite Easter activity of ours was the fiercely competitive annual egg hunt that was held near my grandparents’ house in Florida. In order to keep all of the children happy, there were special golden eggs for everyone. One of my most vivid Easter memories occurred when I was hot on the trail of my golden egg, only to have my efforts thwarted when a lizard crawled up my dress.Because Easter is the most important Catholic holiday, we were always taught to celebrate with an eye towards the religious aspect of the feast. In my house, this meant that every year during Holy Week, my dad would make us sit with him and watch Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments, two biblical epics starring Charlton Heston. Perhaps this one has more to do with my dad’s taste in movies than any religious message, but it is nonetheless part of the family tradition.This is not to say that my family loses sight of the true meaning of the holiday. On Easter Sunday, we all pile in the car and go to Mass, where we encounter another of our holiday traditions: our inability to find an empty seat. No matter how early we arrive, we never find a place to sit. I typically blame my lack of a seating arrangement on the so-called “Chreasters” – the people who only go to Church on Christmas and Easter. Still, all the standing usually helps us work up our appetites, which is perfect for the large family meal that we always share after Mass. Like all holidays, each family celebrates in its own way with a unique set of customs. After reflecting upon some of the rather unorthodox rituals that occur within my family during the Easter season, I have come to realize that while it is important to keep sight of the fact that we are celebrating Jesus’ resurrection and our salvation, we can also recognize Easter as an opportunity for families to gather and spend quality time together.

Molly Acker is a junior communications and humanistic studies double major at Saint Mary’s. Her column appears every other Thursday. She can be contacted at acke6758@saintmarys.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.