Monday, April 17, 2006

The Meaning of Easter; clear as mud.

The kids I nanny for are half Jewish and half Catholic, so they celebrate both Passover and Easter. Talk about confusing. This morning when I arrived, they were busily playing with their Easter booty, which consisted of bunny stickers, sidewalk chalk shaped like eggs, hard boiled eggs, which were then confused with above mentioned chalk resulting in yellow and white goo scraped all over the steps to their house. Now, they are three, and their parents aren't very religious, so it isn't as though they understand the reason for either of these traditions.

At a passover seder, the traditions are spelled out symbolically through the foods that are served (parsley dipped in salt water to recall the tears of Jewish slaves, bitter herbs to recall the bitterness of slavery and unleavened bread to symbolize their quick exit from egypt. That shit didn't have time to rise!)The point is that the story of the Jews leaving Egypt is made clear through the course of the Seder.

Easter seems more than a little confusing. Here is a basket kids, go hunt for eggs! Then you can stuff yourselves with jelly beans and chocolate bunny ears. This should make clear to you that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucification to save all of mankind from their original stain of sin. So, we are celebrating his resurrection and our salvation by going to church, buying lilies and eating a big huge ham (now we don't have to worry about keeping Kosher, because our Saviour has arrived!Screw the Old Testament!)

Some of the confusion has to do with early Christians attempting to disguise their religion with pre-existing Roman Holidays. Yesterday's Writer's Almanac shed a bit of light on this perplexing subject.

"The word "Easter" comes from an ancient pagan goddess worshiped by Anglo Saxons named Eostre. According to legend, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning the bird into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit became our Easter Bunny."

Ah Ha! Now it is all as clear as mud. I think I will close with a delightful segment of "Me talk Pretty One Day" in which Mr. Sedaris and his colleagues attempt to explain Easter in broken French to their Muslim counterpart.

"And what does one do on Easter? Would anyone like to tell us?"

The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the teacher's latest question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, "Excuse me, but what's an Easter?"

It would seem that despite having grown up in a Muslim country, she would have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. "I mean it," she said. "I have no idea what you people are talking about."

The teacher called on the rest of us to explain.

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. "It is," said one, "a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus...oh shit." She faltered and her fellow country-man came to her aid.

"He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two...morsels of...lumber."

The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.

"He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father."

"He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples."

"He nice, the Jesus."

"He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today."

Part of the problem had to do with vocabulary. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such a complicated refexive phrases as "to give of yourself your only begotten son." Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.

"Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb," the Italian nanny explained. "One too may eat of the chocolate."

"And who brings the chocolate?" the teacher asked.

I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, "The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate."

"A rabbit?" The teacher, assuming I'd used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wriggling them as though they were ears. "You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?"

"Well, sure," I said. "He come in the night when one sleep on bed. Which a hand he have a basket and foods."

The teacher sighed and shook her head. As far as she was concerned, I had just explained everything wrong with my country. "No, no," she said. "Here in France the chocolate is brought by a a big bell that flies in from Rome."

I called for a time-out. "But how do the bell know where you live?"

"Well," she said, "how does a rabbit?"

It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That's a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth -- and they can't even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character. He's someone you'd like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It's like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they've got more bells than they know what do to with here in Paris? That's the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there's no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell's dog -- and even then he'd need papers. It just didn't add up.

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