Easter has always been a mystery to me.
Christmas, on the other hand, I instinctively understood a child. In the darkest, shortest, coldest days of our northern winter, we celebrated the coming of a miraculous child (though the mechanics of a virgin birth were silently passed over). For a week before, I went with the church choir to sing carols from house to house in our village, with a lantern hanging on a pole. At every door we were welcomed, or even asked inside for mince pies and mugs of hot chocolate. The snow-draped landscape around us seemed contiguous with the one we saw on Christmas cards, as though across the hill and in the next village there was a stable where shepherds and magi knelt in adoration of a glowing child. On this day, time felt different and even the light in the air, because this was Christmas Day. There were yearned-for gifts in a pillow case at the foot of the bed. Carols on the radio as my mother prepared the turkey for lunch. A fire roared all day in the living room. There were figs in balsa wood boxes and Christmas Specials on television. I could eat chocolate with abandon until there was only the sickly-sweet apricot creme left that no one wanted, and was thrown out the next day with the turkey bones and empty boxes and wrapping paper we had torn from our parcels so eagerly the morning before.
But Easter was different. While Christmas made sense as a mid-winter festival and had a genuine emotional resonance, Easter was an uneasy mix which didn’t make a lot of sense. There was a terrible scene of torture which I imagined in all its ghastly detail – nails smashing through a man’s feet and hands to hang him alive from crossed beams. Somehow this was done for me, prompting vague feelings of guilt that somehow it was I who deserved it. Three days later, the tortured man somehow came back to life, escaped from his grave and rose into the sky, like Houdini on a wire. Then there were the chocolate eggs which I struggled to connect with the grim Easter story, but gorged on nevertheless, after carefully peeling the coloured foil from the surface (for there was nothing worse than biting on metal foil). And what does all that have to do with Easter bunnies?
Easter never worked for me then, even as a child. it eventually became clear it was a clumsy, unsuccessful attempt to crash together several Spring-time traditions and tie them together with a Christian message of guilt and redemption. Commentators in the media regularly bemoan how the ‘traditional’ messages of Christmas and Easter-time are being commercialised into excuses to spend and have a good time. This secularisation, however, may simply be returning these equinox festivals to their guilt-free pre-Christian origins at last. The the spring-time arrival of those sparkling, tasty chocolate eggs. The ubiquitous Easter rabbits, famously devoted to rutting and almost miraculously fecund, able to conceive a second brood while still pregnant with the first. Rather than the gruesome scenes of Christ’s Passion, maybe it is Playboy Bunnies’ attractions that have more to do with the true spirit of Easter, after all.