I’m sure I’m not the only one, but sometimes Easter fills me with nostalgia. I get a little sad this time of year, sadness being the appropriate feeling during Lent, especially during Holy Week, but it’s supposed to climax on Good Friday and be gone after Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night. But for me, it lasts a good long while. I miss the way Easter used to be celebrated when I was little. The way we celebrated was full of tradition and a reflection of our familiar cultures of origin. I woke up in the morning and found an Easter basket full of candy on the dining room table, which included green plastic “Easter grass” and hand molded chocolate covered coconut eggs wrapped in waxed paper that a friend of my mother made, along with the requisite hollow chocolate bunny, jelly beans and malted eggs. I got all dressed up in a special outfit that was so full of starch it scratched and wore gleaming patent leather shoes that pinched and were slippery. There was always a little matching bag and patterned leotards where the crotch stopped about 2 inches above my knees. I was sternly warned under penalty of death to stay clean the entire day and act like a lady lest the death ray stare be deployed. Thus adorned we went to a church filled with everyone else in their special outfits, then we jumped in our cars and went visiting relatives. If I was good I was allowed to take my Easter basket with me.
We visited both Italian and Polish relatives that day. In Bloomfield I feasted on stuffed shells, lamb, nougat candy studded with hazel nuts with a thin wafer coating that stuck to my teeth and my hands got sticky from eating the honey coated struffoli pastry that was pinched off the mound with my fingers. There would be another Easter basket and a brand new paper or silver dollar pressed into my hand. In Garfield I ran around Babcia’s yard with my cousins hunting for Easter eggs that she hid in her magical garden. One year I was so little I couldn’t find anything and cried until she led me to the strawberry patch and produced a plastic egg filled with a fresh flower. I’m sure she put it there just for me to find. Then we ate rice cake that Aunt Mary made, firm, cold, moist and not too sweet, to balance the melon balls we scooped out of a watermelon carved to look like a basket. And oh there was Aunt Verne’s Crown Jewel cake: an amalgam of whipped cream and cubes of colorful jello held in place by lady fingers!
Not to sound too old and cranky, but today it’s all different. Easter is usually celebrated at my house with my friends. All grandparents, aunts, uncles and Babcia are gone. Cousins are scattered far and wide as well as nieces and nephews and their little ones. I’m usually the only Catholic on the premises the entire day. I used to try to make dinner that reflected my favorite dishes from both sides of the family, but this one is lactose intolerant; that one’s a vegan, so and so is gluten free, so why bother? Now the only food anchoring the table representing the past is lamb, (can we talk? I can’t stand lamb) and pot luck everything else. I’ve tried to start some traditions: egg hunts, croquet in the courtyard, a specialty drink or food for the occasion, but nothing seems to have taken hold, and anytime I plan something outdoors it rains, you can set your watch to it!
But let’s not get completely maudlin here! Easter will be filled this year with friends both old and new, all who said, “what can I bring?” the moment they were invited. Included in the day will be teens I can slip some money to and children who delight in chocolate bunnies tucked into plastic Easter grass and when all else fails, we can break out the Peeps! I dragged out all my egg, flower, bunny and Easter themed salt and pepper shakers and put them all over the house. I may even take down the winter curtains and put up the white ones and lay out some family linens. I hear it may be sunny so croquet may be played. There’s Mel, the new puppy in residence to steal the croquet balls and knock over the food table as he enjoys his first party and first Easter with us. Easter is about overcoming loss and sadness and discovering the love that surrounds us every day that we just don’t take the time to look for until it springs up and blooms bright like a daffodil out of the warming spring ground.
HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!