The Meaning of Easter?

As we drove in from JFK on Saturday, having just landed after a 13 hour flight from Abu Dhabi, Caleb said “now we can do that painting eggs thing for the Easter Bunny?”

The Easter Bunny thought fast. “Well, I’m not sure we have eggs at home to boil and then paint. The Easter Bunny might not come this year because we don’t have any eggs for it to hide and it knows we were away. So we’ll celebrate spring another way.”

Caleb wasn’t having it. “NOT COMING? He always comes! And with chocolate bunnies and maybe little presents in the Easter baskets, like cars or something.”

The Easter Bunny closed her eyes and wished she were still sitting in business class with the nice flight attendants plying her with champagne.  Then the classic punt: “we’ll see.”

And that’s why, after the boys were asleep, the Easter Bunny found herself roaming the pillaged aisles of Duane Reade, Walgreens, and Food Emporium, in search of something–anything–that would count as Easter Bunny offerings.  Here’s what was left in a walking-distance radius at 9pm on the Saturday before Easter:

12 plastic eggs with schlocky “toys” inside, which I supplemented with jellybeans; 4 Reese’s Pieces plastic eggs; 2 big Lindt bunnies; and 2 nerf footballs. Pathetic, I know, but the Easter Bunny had jet-lag.  These triumphs of plastic commercialism were hidden around the apartment and lo, in the morning, there was much joy and jellybean eating.

That’s the meaning of Easter, as near as my kids know.  I talked a little bit about Easter as a time of “new beginnings,” which is why we use the eggs, and about spring and re-birth.  Note that avoidance of any actual religion here.  The closest Caleb knows to anything is the story of the First Matzoh but as far as he’s concerned, that’s a story about bad guys chasing good guys and I think he’s pretty sure that Moses looks like Frodo (aka Elijah Wood), in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies.

Religion, in our household, doesn’t have much of a foothold. I heard Liam a while back talking to a friend of his about what J. was learning in Catholic school (J. will be confirmed next year). J. said “well, there are prayers you have to know, and you go to Mass, and stuff…”  Liam thought a minute and then, “what’s praying for? And what’s a Mass?”

Walking through Abu Dhabi the other night after dinner, we walked by a mosque, its green light shining from the minaret. “I know what that is!” Caleb exclaimed. “It’s one of those special places and all the different people who believe stuff go to different ones, right? What do people believe who go to a mosque?”

Every year at Easter and Christmas I tell myself that this year I will spend some time with the boys explaining the various stories and every year I do a little bit and then give up.  I don’t think I believe in god, or God, or anything, particularly, but often that makes me feel like I’m missing something–a larger community, if nothing else, and a way to encourage the boys to think about the world beyond their own needs and desires. We’re moving to a place where religion is unavoidable–that five-times daily call to prayer is a sure-fire reminder of the world of faith–so maybe now the time is right for us to embark on a little “introduction to world religions” course.  It’s not that I want the boys to believe in god, necessarily, but I think they need more information than we’ve given them thus far, if only to make sense of where we’re going to be living next year.

I grew up going to an Episcopalian Church. I remember three things: I was a horse in the Noah’s Art pageant; my mother taught Sunday school (reluctantly, she later told me; it was something she did because “she thought she should.); and the minister’s wife had a mustache and thick man-hair on her arms.

Husband grew up as a Zorastrian–seriously.  Zarathustra and the whole deal.  Zorastrians–Parsis–were driven out of Persia and settled mostly in India and what is now Pakistan; the religion sees the world in terms of the fight between good and evil.  Husband had a “nav jut” when he was puberty-ish (about the same time a Jewish kid might have a bar mitzvah); he had to recite some lines in an ancient language, memorize some prayers, and a few other things.  For a while he wore a special undergarment, like an undershirt, that had religious significance, but he gave that up when it started to be a pain in the ass to change for gym…and he’s never looked back.  You could say he’s a “lapsed Zorastrian.” Husband’s mom was a Protestant, so there was a bit of a flap on his father’s side of the family when they married, but the upshot is that Husband grew up with Christmas but not much else by way of religious celebrations.  I know there are some Zoroastrian holidays on the calendar but Husband doesn’t remember what they are, when they are, or how they are to be celebrated.

In short, we got ourselves some heathen kids and our holidays are primarily chocolate-based. I want the boys to know about faith and what people other than themselves believe, but I think it’s time for me to make my peace with the fact that this family isn’t ever going to be a faith-based operation, at least not on my watch.  I’m hoping that if we can institute family traditions (whether built around chocolate or some other eating venture), we will be building a sense of community and continuity.  Mom-101 wrote about this the other day, about making her own Seder for her kids and that she can make the traditions how she likes and not be beholden to the “shoulds” and “always haves.” If she can do it, so can I, right?

So. Happy Easter and Passover and alhamdulillah and whatever else there is: happy spring and happy chocolate bunnies to you all.

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5 Responses to The Meaning of Easter?

  1. Melissa April 24, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    One word, Deb: Unitarianism. That’s where you send your kids for “religious education” at which they learn about everybody’s stories, but nobody tells them they have to believe any of them.

  2. Varda (SquashedMom) April 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    I can’t believe your husband is a Zoroastrian – how exotic! I was raised secular/bohemian non-religious but culturally Jewish (lox & bagels on weekends, lots of yiddish expressions) but my husband was raised in an observant Jewish home – kosher, sent to yeshiva, all holidays solemnly observed – and his father was actually a cantor. So I say we’re in a “mixed marriage” since we come from such vastly different religious traditions. He had his first forbidden cheeseburger in college. I grew up with lobster as my favorite food.

    My cousins’ family were more connected, belonged to a synagogue for a while, etc (though none of us had bat Mitzvahs) but our seders were always much more about enjoying family and the meal than the actual reading of the haggadah.

    Our sons are being raised in a middle ground, with Ethan going to Hebrew school from K on (I never went, speak no Hebrew) and Jake going to a special needs version starting next fall. We attend seders with both families, and I have to stay I vastly prefer my family’s style, but try not to communicate this to the boys, to keep the peace.

    And also my boys have friends from all sorts of different religions, including a whole lot of 1/2 Jewish 1/2 Christian who they feel envious of, since they get ALL the holidays & presents/treats.

    I’m sure you’ll figure out how to approach it with your boys comfortably. And welcome home!

  3. Stasha April 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    I grew up in an atheist society with scientific parents. We never observed any holidays and traditions. It was only when I moved to the Middle east that it became an issue. I would be asked what religion I belong to by everyone within first few minutes of conversation. I could not believe people still identify themselves by which Book they observe. After many long conversations on me defending my believes, or the lack off I finally started saying I come from a Catholic country. That still serves me well in USA.
    I suggest you come up with a plan, you will be asked in Abu dhabi often. Never as a challenge, more out of curiosity. My grandpa gave me all major Scripts to read as a teenager. Knowledge is power. I never chose to follow any, but I see now why he did it. I was always comfortable with who they raised me to be. Your boys will too. I know!

  4. Suzie April 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    When Stefan was in PreK he was jumping on his bed and said his friend said “if you don’t believe in god you go to hell”. Thank you friend. Stefan, still jumping, asked what is hell. I said it’s a place some people believe bad-people go when they die and they think it’s very bad. Stefan said, well I don’t believe in god or hell. I said (interior whew!) neither do I.

    After a brief love affair Alice had with Jesus, thank you sister. “Mommy do you know about this guy named Jesus!!!!”

    Now we all talk about religious stories as myths. Percy Jackson introduced myths into our lives as very cool and exciting. So now it is a good reference for all miraculous stories.

  5. Melissa May 5, 2011 at 9:28 am #

    This reminds me of the conversation I had with my almost 5 year old son about Santa Claus yesterday. He was being naughty, and asked me if Santa would know. “Santa knows everything,” I replied. “But he can’t see me,” he said. “Oh yes he can,” I said, ‘He has a magic telescope.” “No he doesn’t, Mommy. You’re lying,” he said. Ouch. Yes, instead of filling my 5 year old’s brain with what Xmas actually means (the spirit of giving and though I’m not really religious, something translatable about Jesus,) it has turned into a rant about being good so Santa won’t punish him. What kind of mother am I, I ask myself?!

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