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If you are anything like me you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a Christingle Service and All Saints Day let alone be bothered to mark these occasions in the calendar. In our increasingly secular society, it falls to the very religious to maintain that special degree of piety and ritual that gives British culture a sense of tradition and class.
In fact, only a few festivals ever achieve national recognition. These events are the ones that shape our year by dictating our spending, stretching our stomachs and getting us off work.
But is this all they’re remembered for? Do we remember Christmas because Doctor Who was on, or because Jesus was born? If the only thing that distinguishes these once sacred celebrations is the shape of chocolate, are we losing out on something?
No doubt the word has already conjured up images of countless, delicious chocolate eggs, possibly the Easter Bunny and maybe even lambs skipping across the green hillside. If this is the case it is evidence that, although not considered as commercial as Christmas, Easter has left a decent impression in our minds. And why shouldn’t it? As winter finally gives way, summer will be here before you know it, and even the sheep are getting excited; why shouldn’t we let loose a little and get into the party spirit?
Some people, though not especially religious, increase this anticipation of goodness by depriving themselves of treats for a whole 40 days beforehand. This practise of giving up something for Lent represents another religious tradition that has established itself in popular culture. So, while recognition of religious festivals might generally be considered to be on the decrease, a surprising amount of people willingly commemorate certain key events in the traditional, Christian calendar. It seems everyone can benefit from the structure seasonal celebrations provide.
Most people, however, when thinking about Easter don’t immediately think of a bloodied corpse. And to be fair, if you did, it might not be that normal. Yet, according to the Christian tradition from which we take the celebration, that is a central image on which we should reflect. A man, killed in relative youth, is the reason for the season. It’s not altogether shocking, then, that in an increasingly secular society, many choose not to focus on this slightly unusual event in Christian history.
It seems a bit odd. Nevertheless, this image of sacrifice is what makes Easter the most important event in the eyes of Christians throughout history. For them, this image is the final piece of a jigsaw; Jesus’ life and death, followed by his resurrection, is representative of an ultimate act of love and restoration with God. Understand this powerful image and you understand almost all of Christianity.
According to Archbishop John Sentamu, “the cross [on which Jesus died] is a powerful symbol […] of truth over falsehood, hope over despair and life beyond death” (the Guardian, April 10, 2009).
So there you have it. On the surface level, Easter is another accessible festival, another holiday opportunity, another reason to indulge; something we can all relate to. And why not? As being a key revision period, Easter is supposed to be a time of refreshment. The theme of new life will be unavoidably broadcast by the antics of chicks, bunnies and eggs on TV, so there’s no sense in letting it slip by. If you should take it to a deeper level, in accordance with the Christian tradition, the festival presents an opportunity for new beginnings and for hopefulness.
These are things we can all relate to. The suggestion of taking the opportunity to think about the important themes of Easter should not be so demanding. Why have the celebration and not the deeper goodness? It’s like eating the chocolate and leaving the goo – it just shouldn’t be done.
What would it take to honour a few traditions and make Easter that little bit more special?