We had a quiet Easter this year. I had bought an enormous ham, expecting the usual crowd, but in the end it was just Colleen, our daughters, and me. Brigid and Caitlin are vegetarians, so the ham seemed like overkill. I cut a few slices off one end and put the rest away for another occasion. Thank God for freezers.
Brigid and Caitlin both read at the Easter Vigil, leaving them free to create a sumptuous breakfast Sunday morning. They had spent Holy Saturday baking, as they do every year when they are together, so there was Easter bread and hot cross buns, plus fresh fruit and coloured eggs, coffee with cream, cheese and fruit, and a profusion of chocolate. At the conclusion of the meal I was so stuffed I could hardly breathe.
Compared to breakfast, supper was almost anticlimactic, though Caitlin had baked a dessert — something called Bienenstich, or bee sting cake, a rich confection filled with pastry cream, made from scratch with honey and almonds. There were potatoes and green vegetables to go with the ham, plus a tofu creation that tasted surprisingly like sausage.
We sat at the table long after the meal was over, reminiscing about childhood and talking about Easter rituals. I had little to share, for my parents did not celebrate Easter as a Christian feast. They had each rejected the stern institutional Protestantism they had grown up with, and Easter to them was a private matter between the individual and God. There was always company for supper, but we never went to church.
When my parents were first married they were interested in the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, and when they moved west from Ontario in 1948 they attended meetings regularly in Borden, a small community 50 km northwest of Saskatoon. They would drive out Sunday morning and often not return until after dark, so busy was the community on the Sabbath. It was quite a commitment for a young couple with a growing family, and as the children increased in number it became increasingly difficult to follow the ritual. Ironically, it was the lack of ritual in the Quaker faith that had attracted them in the first place.
Listening to my daughters speak of their own faith and the importance they place on ritual led me to reflect that I had missed a lot as a child. I don’t remember my parents explicitly teaching me anything about Easter.
I remember my Grade 1 teacher reading from the Passion in class. She delivered the words in a voice filled with drama and emotion, gesticulating with one hand as she held the Bible in the other. I can hear her now: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” the rabble shouted when Christ was brought before Pilate. It obviously made a deep impression on me or I wouldn’t remember it so vividly 57 years later, but when I was a child Good Friday was just a day off school, followed by the Easter holidays. I had no clear understanding of the crucifixion or the resurrection.
I learned the Lord’s Prayer at school, too, more or less by osmosis. We recited it every morning in the King James version: “Our Father, which art in heaven. . . .” For a long time I thought it was “Our Father, we chart in heaven,” for it was never explicitly taught to me. It must have made a sort of sense at the time, though I remember thinking it was an odd way to address the deity.
Looking back, it is easy to see a yearning for ritual in my childhood. I think it is a human longing, for there is comfort in community and we instinctively try to create it when it is not there. My parents rejected ritual in the practice of their faith, and as a result they were unable to share their faith with their children.
It was the yearning for ritual that led me eventually to the Catholic Church, and which was later reflected in the raising of my own children. Colleen and I quite consciously embraced the rituals of faith, from Sunday mass during Ordinary Time to the special observances of Advent and Lent. Obviously it made a difference in our daughters’ lives or they wouldn’t as adults derive such comfort from them.