Having my vaguely non-Christian children celebrate Easter is like having a vegetarian barbecue. Sure, it’s something you can wrap your head around as a concept, but at the end of the day, in the execution of the thing, the intent plays an enormous role in how it’s both experienced and understood.
Easter is more of an issue for me than Christmas because it is, as the priests used to insist at me, the celebration of the central Mystery of Christianity. Martyrdom and Resurrection. You can tell it’s more important than Christmas because the gift-giving is a lot less good, a sure-fire indication of solemnity. You can’t focus on the details of the holy day if someone gives you an XBox 360 the morning of. That’s just logic.
Being a lapsed Catholic, I’ve taken the opportunity to not familiarize my kids with the basic Christian message in general, let alone the specifics of the holiday, and yet, for some reason (habit? inertia? Cadbury addiction?) we press on with the pastel-colored commemorations every… April… er, sometimes March… whatever day it happens to be on. My kids get all the benefit without having to do with spiritual heavy lifting. In that sense, I’ve saved them some time as they come pre-lapsed.
Easter isn’t the only bastardized American holiday, of course. Other ostensibly religious holidays have become entirely secularized, unless you can find some kind of historical evidence proving that St. Patrick is the patron saint of being forced to swallow activated charcoal in emergency rooms.
Culture works on several levels, all at the same time: religious, familial, regional, ethnic, linguistic, national… The lines between the influences blur as they coalesce around people and their self-defining social identity groups, but even the lines within the categories are difficult to discern. Am I Catholic? I was raised that way. I know all the rhythmic cues and dance moves associated with the ritual, sacramental celebration of the weekly liturgy. I know the sound and smell of the censer swinging a half-arc of perfumed smoke ahead of the Grand Entrance right down to the wax-paper taste of savior-flesh at the Big Finale. But I have issues with the authority structure and those with whom it is currently peopled. And there are great whacks of the whole passion-play backstory underpinning the entire enterprise I find less than convincing. So if I’m not down with the message, the rules or the inconvenience of a Sunday interrupted, am I still Catholic?
Not really. But I’m not an atheist. And I’m certainly not Buddhist or Jewish or even Episcopalian. And understand, I get that I don’t have to be anything. And, generally speaking, that’s where I live on 98% of my days, in the misty, sensory-deprivation netherworld of the contrarian non-committal. I will say that’s some popular spiritual real estate amongst the fellow raised-Catholics I know, so in that sense I more than belong.
But the question remains: the kids and Easter. Or Christmas for that matter. These are people for whom “Jesus Christ” is something they only ever hear about when dad spills mustard on his pants or if the line is too long at the DMV. If I asked them about what Easter means, I’m sure I’d get a hesitating and vague explanation about egg-laying rabbits.
And I’d have to say Ha, no, son, lagomorphs are certainly not oviparous, and oh how we’d laugh. And then follow it up with stories about the infallible man who was murdered and then, after a couple of days, just kind of walked it off and that’s why you’re allowed to eat Skittles in the morning.
I’m really not an awesome parent. Like most parents, all I have to go on are my own experiences, which I guess I feel like my children should in some way share, but I wonder sometimes if that’s just a failure of imagination on my part. Or laziness. Or garden-variety narcissism. I tell myself it’s a conscious attempt to make sure my children are conversant in the most basic language of the culture in which they’re being raised and will one day have to achieve fluency.
Mostly I think it’s the vinegar smell of a Paas egg-dying kit as the color tablets dissolve and ruin your mom’s drinking glasses for a week. I feel like that experience is one of the cornerstones supporting the monolithic structure of who I am today. That and birds made of marshmallow and rolled in sugar. These are important cultural waypoints my boys will need when interacting with a high-fructose-corn-syrup populous in their native country. A background in commonality like this may lack the religious depth it demands, but it will pay for itself in social ease, self-confidence and probably, eventually, type II diabetes.