These days, we don’t go in much for huge Easter feasts with the relatives anymore. Easter is more of a private day, a day of quietly taking stock at home, the winter finally behind us (in our case this year, only just, there are still small piles of snow in the shady spots of the woods or on the sides of banks that don’t have a southern exposure). Yesterday, I took a walk around our property to check, after the long, challenging winter that we have had to endure this year, for signs of the coming, softer season.
There were purple skunk cabbages pushing up through the dried leaves in the damp bottoms of ditches in the woods. And around the grave of our former cat, there were new green English primrose leaves coming up through the withered foliage of the previous year. The primroses are one of the first flowers to bloom along with the daffodils which are also starting to push up through the soil that only a few weeks ago was still covered with a deep layer of snow. Out in the woods and along the driveway, the pale green tips of the ramp are starting to appear. For those of you who don’t know, ramp is a type of wild onion which the Native Americans used and which stills grows wild and abundant in the woods around here. It has a strong garlicky taste. We cut it up and eat it with the shad that in another month or so will be running and which we’ll be able to get in our local market for a few weeks only. That for me is the true arrival of spring. Fresh shad cooked in butter with ramp my husband digs fresh for me half an hour before dinner time and brings into the house caked with soil and smelling like freshly chopped garlic.
But of course on Easter, memories of Easters past do naturally come to mind. I remember the Easter baskets full of chocolate eggs and jelly beans crowned with an enormous chocolate rabbit that my parents used to give me. My mother did not normally allow candy of any kind in our house, but on two holidays of the year was forced to relent. On Halloween, she let us bring other people’s candy home from trick-or-treating while on Easter, she went out and purchased the nefarious stuff herself. I remember being as excited on Easter morning to get my hands on that basket full of banned substances as I was on Christmas morning wondering what presents were under the tree.
And of course there were the Easter egg hunts. In the early years, they were done outside if the weather permitted and then later indoors when my parents didn’t feel like going out in the wet dew on Easter morning anymore to push brightly colored eggs behind bushes, fence posts and strategically placed stones in the garden. The hunts were done haphazardly for years, until the Easter we couldn’t find one of the hidden eggs no matter how hard we looked and neither one of my parents could remember where they had hidden it. We had to wait a week or two for the egg to go bad before we could find it (I’ve forgotten where it actually was in the end). After that, my father took over the Easter egg hunt as only an engineer could. He would each Easter produce a meticulously drawn diagram of the living, dining and family rooms complete with all pieces of furniture in their correct places and when he hid an egg he would mark on the map where precisely it was, behind what table leg, in which plant or under what heating unit. When my sister and I woke up and came out to find the eggs on Easter morning, he would stand over us like a security inspector, pencil in hand, and check off each found egg as we pounced upon it.
A long, long time ago, we used to get Easter hats (I remember one I kept for a long time that resembled a rigid birthday cake) and special new outfits to wear to church. My mother thought it was cute to get the same outfit for both my sister and I, just a couple of sizes bigger for her. My mother often sewed these outfits herself. I still have a picture of my sister and I in white blouses and matching skirts with wide waistbands and very thick suspenders, her in lavender and myself in pink, standing in front of the tiny fireplace in our Wantagh, Long Island home. I don’t remember how old we were when that tradition stopped. Probably, my sister refused to wear the same clothes that I, a kid five years younger than herself, was wearing as well.
We always went to my aunt’s, my father’s sister’s, for Easter dinner. When we still lived down on the Island, this was a quick drive away. My aunt lived in Williston Park. But when we moved up to Connecticut, it meant a ninety minute drive each way, something that I don’t think my mother was all that thrilled about but which we did regularly on Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day. Honestly, I always looked forward to this drive, even with all the time I had to spend with my sister in the back seat of the station wagon. There was the excited trip down, full of anticipation for all the foods I would normally not get at home and then, many hours later, the drive home in the dark, tired, sated, forehead against the glass, staring out the car window at the lights of the Whitestone Bridge, the Bronx and then the long dark drive up 684 to Connecticut and Danbury. From Danbury it was only fifteen minutes more to Newtown.
Of course, I’ve spent an Easter or two in other countries, many of them having the very civilized tradition of celebrating an Easter Monday as well. In fact, the Germans start already on the Thursday before Easter, Green Thursday they call it, and take a five day weekend. So do the Swedes and the Finns, actually. It’s a tradition we might think of starting in this country.
The most memorable Easter I spent overseas had to have been in Russia, however, where I attended midnight mass with an enormous throng of Orthodox worshippers. The crush in the church was so great that people were fainting, but this didn’t matter too much since we were all wedged so tightly together that even if you fainted, you couldn’t fall. I remember the chanting, the golden decorations on the iconostasis and the fact an old babushka in a kerchief told me I shouldn’t have my hands in my pockets and my friend shouldn’t be wearing lipstick in church.
I went home to sleep after the service, but then later to my friend’s house for an Easter breakfast which turned into a feast of gargantuan proportions reminding me of those feasts of my childhood at my aunt’s house, the table groaning with one delicious holiday dish after the next, dishes I wouldn’t normally get to eat. In Russia, they gave me eggs they’d colored with red onions to take back to my apartment. I remember being decidedly tipsy.
I don’t color eggs anymore. It’s just the two of us and my husband can’t abide hard-boiled eggs. Neither of us eats much candy either (all that early training), so we don’t have bags of chocolate eggs or jelly beans lying around. And I’m not making a feast for twenty. But the day is still a good one, a day of hope, for warmer days and better times for those who need them, of memories for those who are no longer here with us, and of peace, the peace that so many people can only dream of, but which we enjoy here watching our yards fill back up with flowers and animals, watching the evenings draw themselves out toward summer.