Since my grandparents passed away these last few years, every holiday without them seems as hollow as the cheap chocolate bunnies lining the store shelves. Â On this soggy Easter morning, I miss them more than ever.
My mother’s side of the family was never particularly religious, so for us, Easter was more about celebrating the arrival of spring and having an excuse to get together. There were Easter baskets with jelly beans stuck in the fake grass at the bottom, Peeps and Cadbury eggs, and when I was a little kid, my mom colored eggs and hid them out in the yard for us to find. Â But the extended family gatherings on her side were never too big on the egg hunt tradition. Â More likely, after eating too much dinner and candy, we’d all play cards or check out Dad’s seedlings that he’d surely have started by now in preparation for planting the summer garden.
With my mom and brother, Easter 1980(?)
My biological dad’s side of the family, on the other hand, was very religious indeed. Â They areÂ PentecostalÂ Christians, and Easter was a Very Big Deal. Â The small church they attended always had a contest to see which family could bring the most people to service on Easter Sunday, and I remember the church bursting at the seams with people you never saw any other time of year. Â Distant relatives and sons and daughters who rarely came, and everybody dressed not just in Sunday best, but all the girls in frilly pastel Easter dresses and patent leather shoes. Â Easter was the only time my dad ever went to church with us, that I recall, and we had an enormous clan with 7 kids and a huge extended family of cousins and great-aunts and uncles.
I think some years we won, some years we didn’t, but what I remember best is after church in the parking lot, us kids would run around in our fancy clothes and the men of the church all gave change – shiny quarters and if you were lucky, silver dollars. Â Afterwards, my step-mom would drive us to Hook’s drugstore whereÂ we’d take our loot and blow it on so much reduced-price Easter candy that we thought we’d already died and gone to heaven.
With my grandma and cousin Rodney at Easter last year.
As an adult with no kids of my own, Easter isn’t quite as exciting anymore. Â I’ve long since lost touch with my biological dad’s side of the family, so it’s been many, many years since I attended an Easter Sunday service in a pretty dress. Â And my mom’s side of the family sort of fell apart after my grandparents passed away, so we haven’t had any gatherings on her side of the family lately, either.
Still, there’s something about the smell of spring in the air and the fragile green shoots poking out of the ground that make me feel nostalgic and happy that Easter has arrived.
Some friends and I were talking the other day about how, for those of us who are agnostic or atheist, there seem to be few alternatives for the kind of spiritual gatherings or sense of community that church provides for the faithful. Â We agreed that humans seem to have a need for certain kinds of rituals and that even though we aren’t religious in the organized religion sense of the word, we still felt a need for traditions and sacred spaces and a sense of belonging to a community.
My mom and sister-in law taking a picture of myÂ nieceÂ Julie in her pretty Easter dress. Â Nephew Joel possibly picking his nose in the background. Â lol
I often make the joke that if I have to be categorized by religious belief, that I’m “apatheistic” – don’t know, don’t care – but that’s not really true. Â I may not believe in the Old Testament God I was taught about in Sunday school, but I was raised in a culturally Christian community, and at least my biological dad’s side of the family was very religious,Â so I’m sure that my internal moral compass is still largely guided by Judeo-Christian values. Â I still believe that “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” are good rules to live by.
It’s hard sometimes for me to resolve the conflicts I feel about my views on organized religion and the culturally Christian heritage I was raised with, like celebrating Christian holidays or loving the architecture and iconography of churches and cathedrals, but over time I’ve come to believe that it’s ok to celebrate culturally Christian holidays in my own way, and to keep faith in the core meaning of traditions and celebratory rituals that probablyÂ precededÂ Christianity anyway.
So I think for me, Easter is about the coming of spring, about renewal, and a new season of growth. Â And it’s about redemption, too, letting go of past mistakes and “sins” and trying to make a fresh start. Â Maybe not with an entirely clean slate, the past is the past and our mistakes and history can’t be undone, but we can go forward “reborn”, hopefully wiser and kinder than before, and in anticipation of a new season of possibilities when the warmth of summer returns.
I’m not with my family this year, but I’m thinking of them, and remembering Easters past when we were all together. Â Hope you are having a happy Easter too, and feel a little spring in your step today.