Monday, April 13, 2009



I find it wonderfully ironic that a nation founded by fundamentalists and infused with fanatical fervour doesn’t get religious holidays off. As I write this, I’m getting ready for a four-day weekend; as you read it (you do log in immediately to see what we’re up to, don’t you?) I am still enjoying it, while you’re dodging work by surfing the Internet under the pretence of doing research. England might not have as wide a Bible Belt as America, but it has an official religion (conveniently called, “The Church of England”) and that means we get holy days—like Good Friday, Easter Monday and the last Monday in August—off.

Time off of work aside, the central core of Easter, the actual purpose for the holiday (by which I mean the candy) is the same here as in the States, but as usual, there are fundamental differences.

In my younger days, I was part of a church-going family, and that meant Sunday services, when the congregation was always five times its normal size and every woman wore a big flouncy hat in the most garish colors imaginable. Also in my younger days, I was young, and therefore looked forward to getting home from church so I could tuck into the candy. My siblings and I always received a large, chocolate bunny, accompanied by other barnyard animals moulded from sugar-coated marshmallow in various primary hues and a generous scattering of jelly-beans all arranged on a nest of shredded green cellophane in a gaily colored wicker basket.

We also dyed Easter Eggs, which was an anticipated annual event (what can I say; I lived in rural America before cable TV). I never thought of this as a typically American thing to do until I moved here and discovered brown eggs. The white eggs of the US lend themselves well to being dyed bright colors and hidden around the house. In England they have brown eggs and I understand they paint them, though I have never seen this in practice.

So those are my Easter memories: coloring eggs and getting an infusion of candy (just in time to get me over the sugar-drought caused by the Christmas candy running out) all for the price of dressing up one morning a year and spending the longest hour of eternity sitting behind a large woman in a larger hat.

All dressed up and ready for Easter services.


Funnily enough, I remember Easter as being much bigger in the UK than I find it here. Perhaps it's where our childhoods were. As a fairly devout Catholic family, Easter was the most important event of our religious calendar, and the end of Lent - forty days of inhumane deprivation in my ten-year-old opinion. Since kids didn't do or have a lot, they usually ended up giving up candy/sweets; in our case, since we never got many sweets, it usually meant "doing something extra", like feeding the guinea pig without having to be reminded, tidying up our rooms without being yelled at, or visiting gran more than once a week on the way home from school.

But the reward was the delicious Easter eggs on Easter Sunday (after mass of course). In England, the eggs were fairly large, hollow and chocolate, containing chocolates or sweets. We received them from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents, so it wasn't unusual to score six or seven. This presented a big headache to the parentals as they tried every trick in the book to stop us from scoffing the lot before bedtime.

In the US, chocolate eggs have become more popular in the 19 years I've been here, but they're fairly small affairs with nothing in the middle, and sadly, the chocolate isn't up to par. The focus here is more on Easter Egg hunts, where children of all ages race excitedly around gardens, in search of small plastic eggs containing sweets. It's more of a community affair than I remember my childhood Easters being, but there's less mention of the religious aspect.

In fact in the past few days, I have heard Easter referred to as a "holiday". This is the politically correct term for the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwaanza period in December, but seems to be rapidly replacing any reference to specific religious events.

(I acknowledge that Mike has raised the debate bar by posting cutie-pie photos of his childhood self. The gloves are off!)

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  1. Your opening line really struck a chord with me and you make a great point. Unfortunately, I think our true religion is money and corporation is King, that's why we don't get these holidays off. I'm sorry Mike and I'll probably make some enemies by saying it, and we discussed this at Christmas time too -our focus is no longer on family and togetherness and traditions and this is a real shame. Love your adorable Easter outfit by the way. Kids would'nt be caught dead in that these days, eh?

    Toni- you're perception is correct that Britain still makes a bigger deal of Easter than we do these days. To many, Good Friday is just a day off.

  2. Etymologically a holiday is a holy day, what could be a better description of Easter?

    So my friend and I were discussing very important ethnic differences within Catholicism. So I had one little multiple choice question.

    Where did you family put its Virgin on the half shell when you were growing up?
    a. We stuck it in the front garden/yard, just so people knew we were Catholic.
    b. This is a devotional item and was kept in a private place for personal prayer.
    c. We never had anything like that.
    d. I have something very interesting to say on the subject of Catholic paraphernalia in Britain and will tell you all about it.

  3. Hi Elizabeth. We actually didn't have one and I can't remember anyone I know having one outside, even though we seemed to be surrounded by Catholics. Even now, I haven't seen one in England.
    My great-granny had one with a dark red flickering light that she kept by her bed though.

  4. Smitten: I was cute, wasn't I ;)

  5. Here in the UK people seem to enjoy having the weekend off for a mini-break (the Peak District was completely packed). The Catholic church we went to, however, forced us to watch the (fairly boring) service on tv in the overflow room (the hall). In my usual church in the U.S., the Easter Vigil is a 3 or 4 hour affair and the musicians practice for 6 months ahead of time. Not having the Friday off in the U.S. is a bit ridiculous.

  6. There are loads of Brits over here at the moment - all gloating silently over the fact that they have about two weeks off!

  7. The amount of time Brits take off work is truly astounding! Begs the question: who exactly is it that's on the job at any given time?

    But on to the topic at hand:

    As a child, Easter meant one thing: Candy!

    Sad, innit?

    Needless to say, I was raised in a slightly skitzy family: university educated parents and religious grandparents. There was always a slight tug o'war between the two (sometimes) armed but very civilised camps. Beneath the surface, don't you know, no overt hostilities could ever break out because we all "loved" each other!

    Well, of course the grandparents won in the end (we were firm allies against our common enemy--the parentals), and now Easter has taken it's proper place in my life (not a bite of anything resembling chocolate this year) and understanding.

    Thanks, Gram and Gramps!

  8. Mike...... you still look like your photo!!!!!!
    I can remember dying eggs with different vegetable dyes as a child.

    Toni....... surprised you don't get Easter hols in USA I had thought that you would, somehow.

  9. Maggie: Yes; I'm just as cute as ever, ;)

    Jill: Easter is easier when you're a kid--you get candy, you eat it, simple. Now, even though I know I shouldn't be eating stuff like that, I am just as temped by the candy (more so, as chocolate over here is a lot better than US chocolate) and I have a credit card ;)


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