My mother, Margaret Vartanoff, was an Episcopalian convert. She always greeted us happily on Easter Sunday with “He is risen!” In the week prior to that joyous day, my mother walked the walk of Jesus through all the miseries of the crucifixion. By Saturday, when he was “dead,” she was emotionally exhausted. That was the day we always took our Easter baskets down to church for a special private blessing from Father Meisel. I don’t know why she wanted that for us, but we dutifully complied for many years.
Even prior to Palm Sunday, my mother took Lent very seriously. Each year she gave up something she really liked. And she didn’t talk about it or boast in any way. It was only after we kept trying to ply her with her favorite ice cream one year that she confessed she had given it up for Lent. Mom adored ice cream and even when she was long gone in dementia in her nineties, she would get up on her own, make her way to the kitchen, and get herself a Klondike bar. So giving up ice cream was big for her. But she did it as some kind of gift of faith, a faith that was always strong in her and was the moral center of her life.
Easter for me was always about dyeing the eggs, making up the basket, and showing up in church in a nice outfit. This was during my childhood, when I was willing to be bored stiff in church week after week. As an adolescent, I gave that up once I determined that God and I were not going to have a deep personal relationship. Hey, I tried. I even made my own altar in the woods one time, an idea that I must have gotten from some Sunday school publication. It didn’t work. God remained stubbornly far from me. I didn’t get God. Still don’t, but I’m okay with it.
As a parent, I tried to make Easter a fun day. I do love the idea of an Easter egg hunt, and I’ve done them inside if the weather’s been bad. At least one year, there was a plastic egg hidden in the dryer. In the era before plastic eggs, Mom always hid chocolate Easter eggs all over the house. In the silverware drawer. In the napkin drawer. On the dining room table. In the music cabinet. On the piano. And more. Part of the fun was that she hid three eggs in each spot, one for each child, and sometimes we did not all find the same caches. Days, weeks, or even months later we might find one, two, or three eggs in some obscure place Mom had chosen. Chocolate doesn’t go bad easily, so they were a surprise treat whenever we found them.
When I lived in Massachusetts, a wonderful state with far too much winter, I saw that someone had decorated a bare tree with plastic Easter eggs. This idea, which at first seemed tacky and probably still is tacky, appealed to me. There is little color outside in winter, and these vulgarly bright eggs hit the spot. Ever since, I have put the brightest plastic Easter eggs I can find on my front trees or bushes or wherever I can reach. I usually put them up in nasty weather and take them down in balmy temperatures.
And that’s the meaning of Easter to me. Oh, sure, sometimes there’s a lamb in the oven, or a rib roast, and company come to stay. But the passion of Christ has nothing to do with my enjoyment of a spring day that tends to be quiet because everybody mowed their lawns the day before. The fact that the society in which I live is based on Christianity relates to me on this occasion on a secular, not to say hedonistic or materialistic level. Those chocolate eggs. Those plastic eggs. The Easter basket decorating. The Easter hat.
Got to go dye some eggs now.