This weekend is the main event for religious Christians, and even some who aren’t. I haven’t had any personal religious association with Easter for a very long time, but I still have plenty of memories to keep me connected to it.
Recently I wrote that my mother “had a flair for the dramatic”, which is certainly true. But so did my father: His strength was stage management, you could say, and Easter weekend is a good example.
Every Christmas, my dad’s church had a couple Christmas trees and once the trees came down the branches were cut off and the trunks set aside. For Good Friday, the tree trunks were lashed together to form a cross and placed in a Christmas tree stand in the chancel. The altar cloths were stripped away, the brass cross usually on it was put away and a plain wooden one brought out. It had a sign saying “INRI” attached to it (my mother made the sign using cardboard my dad’s shirts were wrapped around by the laundry; to this day I call this white-on-one-side, gray-on-the-other-side cardboard “shirt cardboard”).
In those days, ministers usually wore a black cassock with a white surplice over it and a coloured ecclesiastic stole around the neck. On Good Friday my dad and any other service leaders wore the black cassock without the surplice (though my dad eventually had a black stole just for the night’s services), and he wore a crucifix, rather than the usual Protestant empty cross.
The sanctuary was dark, apart from a spotlight on that Christmas tree cross. Eventually my dad read The Passion and when he got to the phrase “He gave up the ghost”, the lights were shut off. Very dramatic. At the end of the service, parishioners filed out in silence.
Easter Sunday was a complete contrast: All the altar cloths were back, so was the brass cross, and the chancel was filled with flowers, especially Easter Lillies (which, because they’re spring flowers, are usually called Christmas Lillies in New Zealand). Everything was much more upbeat in keeping with what is for Christians a joyous celebration.
When I was younger, I was as into all that as anyone else, though my dad’s stage management no doubt helped. But the thing I remember most from those years isn’t the services, but my Easter baskets.
Each year my mother would tell me “the Easter Bunny hopped”, and I’d go to see the usual jellybeans and chocolates in my Easter basket. But each year they also gave me a stuffed animal, and one year they put my stuffed rabbit outside, leaning against a fence where morning glories were growing; most years, the weather didn’t allow that.
So, while I may no longer be religious or a Christian, I nevertheless have strong personal connections to Easter. The perfume of Easter (or Christmas) Lillies instantly brings me back there. So, too, do memories.