It’s Easter time and I have been feeling wistful these last weeks for the Easter season of my youth. March 29th was Palm Sunday this year – the Sunday prior to Easter. The celebration of Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday is the holiest week of the year for Christians. The real preparation for Easter begins even earlier with Lent, the season kicked off (in a secular way) by Mardi Gras.
During Lent we gave up things like chocolate or picked new things to focus on – like “not being disobedient to our parents”. What we ever did that was disobedient still eludes me. I think most Catholics made up sins for confession when we were under 10. We varied our limited schedules to include more visits to Church for silent reflection or to attend extra services. During holy week there were major services including Holy Thursday which commemorates the Last Supper, Good Friday with its focus on the crucifixion and the saying/going through the Stations of the Cross, which aided in thinking about what Christ went through.
Being a 1950s/60s Catholic, these traditions were not generally considered optional. And it seemed everyone went to Church, participated in these services – while my and my parents’ Jewish friends went to Temple and/or the Synagogue for Passover which we knew less about – except of course that Jesus was Jewish. Everyone seemed to be doing something important and religious. And doing it in the exact same way every year.
There was the ritual of coloring Easter eggs and eating chocolate rabbits once it was officially Easter. My sister Wendy and I also liked helping my mother make “Easter bread” – a delicious type of egg-infused loaf we only consumed during a few weeks prior to and after Easter Sunday. We enjoyed preparing once a year treats of “Italian cheesecake” – think ricotta cheese versus cream cheese; and pizza rustica – a sort of torta of cold cuts and cheeses in a tasty crust. Stir in new bonnets and dresses for Church and “going as a family to Church” and you have the experience.
Easter Sunday was like Church every week — except more crowded since back then 100% of Catholics went to Church on Christmas and Easter while only what seemed like 95% went every week – with loud and strong singing and frequent ‘Hallelujahs’ and lilies with purple foil bases everywhere you looked.
It’s 2015. I realize that my wonderful memories have been utterly replaced with what? Now, Easter means only the need to attend Church if I want to (which I do), hearing from a select few friends who are deeply religious (which is a very short list) or some family members who are touched to be remembered (like my 100 year old uncle or my 95 year old aunt). Nothing else is expected – or required.
Upon reflection, I got what I wanted — the choice of what faith and what role that faith plays in my life. Easter is a day I choose to celebrate privately. I lost all the fattening parts of the holiday which tempted me: cheesecake, torta, and the chocolate bunnies as well as the endless list of should-do’s around the holiday. It is definitely harder to form and keep my own faith including holy days for myself. But that is the freedom I believe is important and what I thought (and still think) is what we as a generation stood for: personal responsibility and wonderful creative license to believe and worship as we please – what is truly fabulous.
Oh and Blessed Passover, and Happy Easter to those of you who choose to celebrate – Sing Hallelujah!
Patty Gill Webber