Monday, April 02, 2007

I want to sing Easter carols

To me Easter is like the sad, overshadowed cousin of Christmas. It's not lit up with colored lights, it doesn't sparkle with (fake) ice and snow and there's no magical figure that flies through the night to bring you WHATEVER YOU WANT. Easter just sort of languishes. How many people even know that Easter is this Sunday?

It's very strange that Easter isn't at least as big as Christmas since supposedly the whole purpose of Jesus' life was so that he could "die for us." THAT was the big event. I remember Catholic masses and catechism classes that tried to impress upon us children the importance of Jesus' death and resurrection, but it didn't work. Without the cooperation of Madison Avenue to turn our entire world into a a big breathless wonderland of promise and anticipation, Easter felt like a big So What?

Why can't Easter be more like Christmas? Maybe part of the reason lies in the history of Christmas. My Christmas post is called "Isn't There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas Is All About?" In brief, the fourth century Christian church appropriated the pagan tradition of winter solstice feasting. It changed this ancient ritual into a religious celebration by making December 25th the date of Jesus' feast day. It was a sneaky way to suddenly make a lot people seem like Jesus-loving Christians by saying their annual revelry was really about the son of god.

You'll have to read my Christmas post for all the details, but Christmas developed into the commercial glut that it is today through a combination of its pagan origins, its development in the middle ages into a day of revelry and drunkenness, and its current incarnation as childhood materialistic fantasy. Christmas has been one extreme and another: a sacred day of religious observance and a day to kiss anyone you can under the mistletoe. It has been sinful enough to be banned by the New England Puritans and wholesome enough to represent the American family at its best. Christmas has a rich history and no end of American marketing and merchandising that never stop trying to make it even more irresistible each year.

Have you noticed that Halloween gets bigger every year, too? Halloween used to be an extremely minor holiday that no one did anything about unless you were a parent or a teacher. It was really just for children. Grown-ups didn't wear costumes to work that day or decorate entire businesses with orange and black. Television stations didn't air horror movie marathons in the weeks before October 31st and tv shows didn't have special Halloween episodes. In the past decade, sales of Halloween decorations, candy and costumes have ballooned and these days no one is able to forget that October 31st is coming and what are YOU doing to get ready?

So what happened to Easter? Why haven't grown-ups gotten sucked into that one? Why hasn't Madison Avenue taken its shot at selling more and more Easter stuff? Why doesn't that holiday get spread all over the stores, streets and airwaves?

I'd say one reason is the way the Catholic church has treated Easter: as a brief, momentary celebration of Jesus' resurrection that is completely overshadowed by the grim 40 days of Lent that precede it, not to mention the sorrow and guilt of Holy Week. I go into this in more detail in my last post on Easter. But there's got to be more to it than that.

Seriously, I'm asking. Why hasn't Easter taken off the way Christmas and Halloween have? Could it be related to the way Americans have secularized Christmas and sterilized Halloween of its pagan origins? Separation of church and state disappears every December 25th because we've taken a religious day and made it public, all-inclusive and about Santa Claus more than Jesus. And although Halloween was originally about the relationship between the living and the departed, for most of us it's just a fun way to scare ourselves and a harmless way to be like children for a day (or a month).

So maybe Easter languishes because it's too much about Jesus? Maybe we haven't figured out a way to make it secular? But wait -- what about the Easter bunny? He brings stuff to good little girls and boys. Why hasn't he grown in stature like Santa and Rudolph?

I whine once more: what keeps Americans from secularizing and commercializing Easter? Where is its magic? Yuletide spirit is hugely powered by companies wanting to make money and that's a wonderful thing. That keeps the appeal of Christmas growing. But it just hasn't happened for Easter. Why? Is it the violence of Jesus' death? Is it our spiritual alienation from the resurrection story? Is Easter, with its Lenten prologue and death-defying miracle and doubting disciples, just too complicated for us to boil down into a simple narrative like the birth of Jesus? What keeps American profit-greed from fully exploiting this holiday?


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