I grew up Seventh Day Adventist, with little bit of cultural Judaism and scientific agnosticism thrown into the mix.
My grandfather was a preacher, and my mom’s side of the family was steeped in a deep Southern religiosity that circumscribed every aspect of life. By the time I came into the picture, the intensity was somewhat diluted: My Jewish dad wasn’t religious. I did go to church every Saturday as a kid (an agonizing experience occasionally brightened by a post-church potluck: Seventh Day Adventists, as a rule, are damn good cooks), and dutifully explained to my friends that Saturday is the real Sabbath. But holidays in my household weren’t invested with much religious significance. Ironically, the rituals that were the most moving and laden with meaning were Jewish ones: the lighting of the candles on Hanukah and Shabbat, the Passover Seder. Christmas was an occasion for presents, and Easter was an occasion for candy.
In many religious traditions, Easter’s sacredness and solemnity rivals that of Christmas. Which makes sense: Easter represents the culmination of the story that began with Christ’s birth, the fulfillment of the promise of the nativity. Many Christians attend midnight mass, break the Lenten fast, and partake in a range of rituals (many of which are delightfully bizarre and freighted with sexual undercurrents. See Dyngus Day). For me, though, Easter was about chocolate, and chocolate only (okay, bunnies too).
On Easter morning, the doorbell would ring. On the doorstep, there’d be a basket (presumably left by the cunning and secretive Easter bunny), filled with that springy bright-green paper that’s supposed to represent grass and festooned prettily with ribbons. Inside, there was candy. Chocolate bunnies. Cadbury’s Mini Eggs (oh, the Mini Eggs!). Maybe some other things? I only cared about the chocolate . Later, there’d be an Easter egg hunt. My family didn’t go in for hard-boiling and dying real eggs: Instead, hollow plastic ones were filled with yet more candy. Discovering a tiny packet of sugary treats nestled in the grass was an occasion for the kind of ecstatic pleasure that seems so accessible to children before a certain age.
The last time I got an Easter basket, I think I was twelve or thirteen, just embarking on a tumultuous adolescence characterized by alienation, resentment and foolhardy impulse-following. My mom made me a beautiful Easter basket with a Care Bear plushy in it. (I had loved the Care Bears as a little kid.) It was a touching gesture, and the memory of it (and the accompanying memory of the anguish I caused my parents during that time) gives me a little pang of sadness.
This Easter, my chocolate isn’t cloying and waxy and fashioned into a gimmicky shape: It’s organic dark chocolate, rescued from a dumpster and eaten with almonds and raisins out of a jar lid that’s standing in for a plate. Dark chocolate’s deep funky richness is one of my favorite tastes. Chewy, tart raisins and crunchy, round-flavored almonds provide the perfect counterpoint to chocolate’s bittersweet smoothness. With a ready supply of really good free chocolate, I eat it pretty much every day.
I want to make an Easter basket for someone, to ring their doorbell and run away, to give them a little flicker of primal delight. But I won’t, because I can’t think of the right person. I want to hunt for eggs and wear a pastel dress and loll in the grass tomorrow, drunk on candy. Instead, I’ll don black, and go to work, as families celebrate the risen Christ and children revel in the opportunity to glut themselves on candy.
That’s okay, though: I’ve got Tom Waits to buoy my spirits with a sweet hit of earthy absurdity. And as for any need I might have to connect with the symbolism of spiritual and physical renewal: I’ve got Passover for that.