Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter for Agnostics

Easter for Agnostics

It’s obvious why Easter is important to believing Christians of all persuasions.  It celebrates the central mystery and promise of the faith.  It’s the culmination of the liturgical year, bolstered by a dramatic narrative of moveable feasts from Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday through Lent to Holy Week – during which congregants commemorate the Last Supper on Thursday, the Crucifixion on Friday, the Entombment on Saturday, and the Resurrection on Sunday.  Whether you participate in a Saturday-night vigil or in decorating the sanctuary or simply attend services, the Easter season can be aesthetically moving and, more important, spiritually powerful.

What’s less obvious is why Easter appeals to many non-churchgoers – lapsed Christians, agnostics, even those who profess a different faith . . . or profess none at all.

My daughter is a good example.  She’s always said that Easter is her favorite holiday, even though her church attendance ended at about age four (a subject, perhaps, of another blog) and she’s now an adult who lives far from her family and thus does not receive a nostalgic jellybean hunt.  I’ve asked her about this preference (particularly because I’m an all-out Christmas person); her answers have been intriguing.

Sure, she likes the spring colors of candy eggs and flowers, the general cuteness of chicks and bunnies.  But what counts most is the lack of stress.  Easter, in her memory and her current practice, does not involve the pressure of Christmas – no gifts to buy, no rounds of parties to attend, no obligatory time with semi-random family members or acquaintances.  There are treats, a few decorations to be set out, a nice dinner with a reasonable number of people with whom one is close – and that’s that.  Moreover, there haven’t been three months of non-stop commercialization leading up to it.

When I think of her childhood Easters, I realize that they were completely child-centered.  No presents required for Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Aunts and Uncles.  Only an Easter basket and a room or two full of hidden goodies . . . a fun hour of finding eggs and a few Easter trinkets . . . a pleasant mid-day meal with food a child probably enjoys more than the heavier Christmas dinner.  And no need to act extravagantly delighted or surprised.

There is also less pressure on parents. For Easter, we don’t have to put together a bike or a dollhouse after midnight or figure out how to meet a child’s wishes without shattering a fragile budget.  (I must say that my daughter never had excessive Christmas must-haves . . . it was more a matter of putting pressure on myself to give her an abundant gift-haul.)  If grandparents are around, great!  But parents don’t have to do anything for them other than set extra places at the brunch table and make a few more pancakes.

Further, for parents and other involved adults, Easter lets us be kids ourselves.  Chocolate!  Multi-hued Peeps!  Playing hide-and-go-seek with small objects!  And more . . . the holiday refocuses parental attention on our children, a focus that can become blurred when both parents are working, or working through their own issues. 

I’m not suggesting that Easter is ‘better’ if you don’t go to church (nothing described above is incompatible with how traditionally religious families may choose to celebrate Easter).  Instead, I’m trying to explain that Easter can be a meaningful holiday even to agnostics like my daughter and me.  As its traditional symbols of eggs and baby animals and sweet things and rainbow colors imply, the holiday celebrates new and renewed life . . . childhood . . . innocence . . . and growing up secure in being loved.  Which makes it a special holiday, with many shared values, for religious and non-religious people alike.

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