Make no mistake about it: Easter is my favorite holiday. It always has been and always will be. Not that Christmas isn’t a beautiful time of year when you are supposed to get warm fuzzies about eggnog and gift-giving, lovely lights and cheer. Easter has more oomph to me than Christmas. First of all, in my climate, it’s usually warmer. There is hope on the horizon, whereas there is nothing but darkness and cold at Christmas-time. Granted, there isn’t the level of gift-giving you see for Christmas. When I was a child, there weren’t that many substantive gifts around our tree for Christmas. There were gifts; however, they were usually cheap and more intended for sentiment than for a thrill.
Two things have always made Easter a special one for me. When I was growing up, Easter Sunday was a very busy day. We’d wake up well before the crack of dawn for what was called, in our church, a Sunrise service. Leading up to Easter was a big deal too. Every week my family attended a Wednesday night Lenten service, complete with a meal. For each week during the forty-day Lenten period, our church would all gather for dinner and have a different ethnic dinner. I specifically remember a borscht dinner, mainly because I had no desire to eat anything that had beets in it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked borscht. There was a special service on Palm Sunday where all the children were given a palm leaf to take home. My mother would make a bouquet of her children’s three palm leaves that took center stage at our Sunday dinner table.
On Maundy Thursday evening, the Thursday before Easter, there was a service at our church where all of the elders and our pastor would wash the congregation’s feet, everybody’s feet. My church took Easter week very seriously. Then on Good Friday we would go and listen to a sermon on the Seven Stages of the Cross, which was a very long service, complete with seven different special singers. When I grew older, I would participate in a community service that took all day long on Good Friday. The day has always had a particularly sentimental quality to it for me. The lead-up to Easter I think was almost as important as the day itself.
Getting back to the big day, for the Sunrise service, the teens and youth of my church would perform the entire service, from beginning to end. It was often a near disaster of a service as you can’t rely too heavily on teens to do things with gusto, but they made an effort. The hymns were always ones of hope and joy, of surprise and happiness in Christ’s resurrection. After the sunrise service, our entire congregation would join for a pancake breakfast, served by the men of the church. Women were not allowed in the kitchen. My father played a prominent role as one of the two main “pancake chefs”. It was one of the few things he could cook to perfection. He and his buddy, Harlan, who eventually walked me down the aisle at my wedding in my father’s absence, would stand in the hallway of the church behind a borrowed fry-top they’d rented from the local legion hall. They’d stand there flipping pancakes for several hours, the heroes of the day. The younger men of the church, working in the kitchen, would fry up bacon and sausage, make orange juice and pour milk, waiting tables throughout the dining hall. Children would run and laugh in a giant Easter egg hunt throughout the church building. We’d find little plastic eggs all over the place. There was a huge basket of candy for the child who found the most eggs.
The breakfast was followed by our “regular” Sunday school classes for children and our typical hour-long Sunday service. When the morning was complete and the last service was over, we had spent almost six hours at church and would go home exhausted. We’d take a nap for a couple of hours until I’d wake to find my parents had hidden real eggs either outside or in our home if it was too cold. We had an excellent evening dinner, probably ham or potatoes. We’d dig into a cake my mother had made in the shape of a bunny.
How could a child not be thrilled with memories like these? It was as good as Christmas, if not better. I always had a hand-made, brand new dress and often dainty white gloves and a hat.
What made the holiday special and what still warms my heart, however, is the deeper meaning of the holiday. The themes of the religious significance always strike a blow to my soul: loyalty, betrayal and forgiveness, sacrifice, fate and hope. If you don’t believe in these things, then I’m very sorry for you, and I do include you in my prayers, whether you want me to or not. I can’t understand a life where you don’t believe in things like the themes of Easter. What is life without hope? What is life without a deep understanding of sacrifice? I do believe in fate. I believe we all have a destiny, a chosen path. Without it, life would be meaningless. My prayer for you this Easter is that you find your fate, you realize that path in your life and embrace it. I love that Easter comes in the Springtime. It’s a time of hope, life and renewal. May the themes surrounding Easter speak to you in your life. Happy Spring! Christ Is Risen Indeed!