Times Past: Easter — An evolving holiday

  • Members of the congregation at Greenfield’s Holy Trinity Church during a 2017 service. Recorder File Photo


Published: 3/30/2018 2:45:27 PM

Easter has certainly changed over the years.

When I was a child in the 1950s, Good Friday was an actual day off for the public schools. It was our understanding that Jewish children were allowed to take days off from school for religious holidays without being marked as absent.

Even then, teachers were trying to help us sort out the issues of separation of church and state. I remember a long lecture from Miss Congdon, our seventh grade English Literature teacher, when she carefully explained that we should not refer to the April vacation as our Easter vacation. After all, she explained, Easter falls on different dates every year, sometimes even in March. As I matured, I came to appreciate her conscientious inclusiveness and her gentle wisdom.

Easter has changed in other ways, too. In the 1950s, churches were filled most Sundays, and were extra-full on Easter. Churches, with their active youth groups and their interchurch basketball league games, served as community centers in Greenfield.

Families felt some degree of social peer pressure to participate in the life of a church. I remember one little boy in fifth grade harshly berating a girl from his neighborhood about her non-church attendance. The girl was smart enough to know he was a Catholic, and that Holy Trinity Church had several services. She calmly told him she and her family obviously went to a different service than his. I suspected at the time that she had not attended any church, and I felt uncomfortable at the age of 9 to witness the attempted shaming.

Easter is now over-commercialized with ads that say things like “No bunny knows Easter like Cadbury.” Back then, there was a lot of non-religious advertising as well. Ladies were told repeatedly that they should have a new Easter outfit, or at least a new hat. Families were strongly encouraged to have new outfits for every child, too. I remember feeling conspicuous when I showed up for church with only a “new” outfit which was a hand-me-down. A lot of the peer pressure then, as now, was unrelated to the story of the risen savior.

One nice part of Easter was the habit of family gatherings. My great-aunt and uncle generally came to our house for dinner the day before Easter, because Easter dinner had to be served at noon, just as any other day. Obviously, preparing a meal for noon was not compatible with leaving church at noon. Also, we children figured out while we were still quite young and living in Guilford, Vt., that Easter baskets always followed those visits from Uncle Levi and Aunt Flossie.

I am thankful no one ever suggested the existence of an Easter Bunny.

Now we see Easter in a different way. The media will portray it as a major Christian holiday, and perhaps cover the Easter festivities in the Holy Land, possibly as a subtle way to hint at the irrelevance of Easter in sophisticated modern America. No one will feel pressured to attend worship services, and those who choose to worship will be free to consider the real message of Easter without some of those old trappings.

Maybe Easter is better now, even with half-filled churches.

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