By Joseph Xavier Martin
Easter was always a special time for us growing up in a Catholic household. New clothes and a week-long buildup of religious events had us on edge into the grand finale, Easter Sunday. Everyone put on their best “church clothes” and paraded in and out of God’s Home like they do in a New York City Fashion show. It also meant the end of the Lenten season and a return to eating whatever treats you had “given up” during Lent. We were never really clear about that whole murky business, of “giving things up.” But, you needed whatever brownie points you could amass during Lent to atone for the many infractions committed during the rest of the year.
Easter Sunday also meant a grand dinner in the afternoon, with relatives and friends invited. Ham was the most popular entrée, but the side dishes were both varied and delicious. A “butter lamb,” from the Broadway market, was a necessary addition. We ate with youthful abandon, enjoying the plenty that the post Lenten feast provided. And then of course, there was the whole tradition of dyed eggs, chocolate bunnies and eggs to gladden the heart of every child. We never really gave much thought to this whole business, just accepted it as one of those things that you did every spring around Easter.It was only later in life that I began to wonder what all this bunny stuff was all about. What did Easter bunnies have to do with the grand passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Well, nothing actually as I was later to find out. It seems that in the Germanic countries, the custom arose in the mid 1600s. Folklore had it that an Easter Hare would arrive the night before the holiday. If children were found to have been good, he left dyed eggs and delicacies. Does this yarn sound familiar?
To those of Hibernian descent, it is a time to remember the 1916 “Easter Rising” in Eire. It was a brave but futile exposition of nationhood, put on my men and women who knew it was but one more “beau geste” in the long process that would one day free Eire forever. Some like to describe it as a failed event brought on by poor communication and missed opportunities. But, I don’t think so. Clark, Pearse, Connelly and others were all hard as nails revolutionaries, tempered in the steel of British Prisons, not starry-eyed idealists playing at rebellion. These men knew that afterwards, their lives were forfeit. They must have hoped that their grand gesture would galvanize the Republic, and so it did. From the ashes of their graves rose the soaring Phoenix of a New Eire that in a few short years would become a nation once again, after some 700 years of captivity. Bless these men and women for their grand gesture at the rising of the moon.
Like most holidays, numerous cultures had added on their own traditions over the years, until Easter became a mishmash of bunny hopping, along side of many other traditions and the grand passion of Christ. It all seemed normal to us at the time. Children rarely question physical and temporal anomalies. They just rock and roll with the “now,” enjoying the day and all the wonderful things that it brought to them. And maybe the kids have it right. So now, I watch “The Greatest Story Ever told,” “Ben Hur,” “Michael Collins” and a few other classics, depicting the full panoply of time and events now long past, while munching on a few chocolate eggs and thinking about the best clothes to wear to Easter Mass on Sunday. And if the history and traditions get a little mixed up, so what! All the other holiday celebrations are as equally confusing and Eire is free. The day offers one more celebration of life to remind all of us of how fortunate that we are. It works for me.
Joseph Xavier Martin says Easter offers a reminder of how fortunate we are.