Gathering Together We Celebrate

Spring is Sprung 19         On Easter after church, we usually went to dinner with my Great Aunt Alice in her big house next door to the cottage my parents rented from her. She would have a beautiful table with gleaning silver, fragile china and sparkling crystal goblets set in the large dining room she used for formal occasions. Once the soup course was done and dishes removed, people brought in to help, carried around platters of meat and dishes of vegetables. These would be followed by dessert and finally, finger bowls with a sprig of green lemon verbena floating in them. The silver candy dishes with chocolates I eagerly eyed all through the meal were finally passed around.

This weekend holds Easter, a Christian Holiday and Pesach or Passover, a Jewish one. Both are important in the tradition of family gatherings.  Both have an element of ritual that is central to the celebration. Carl Jung the eminent psychologist taught us about what he called the collective unconscious. Briefly stated this is a kind of universal memory that underlies all of human consciousness. It is not individual– what we remember for ourselves, but comprised of the memories encoded in symbols, of the whole human race.

The collective unconscious is like a vast rich sea in which each of us is a drop. We swim in it, and thus make our connection to the psychic history of humanity. The symbols and rituals of the holidays are present within it. These provide pathways that we honor with our traditions. For instance, eggs are a universal symbol of fertility. They are found in myths from all over the world. The use of eggs in Easter baskets goes back to Germany. It was brought to this country by settlers in Pennsylvania.

The gathering for the ritual recitation of the history of the Exodus at Passover is another important connection to the past. Known as a Seder, it recreates the connection to Jewish peoples of history. The Easter bunny, actually originally a hare is an ancient symbol associated with the Moon. Both Easter and Pesach are full moon based, rather than on a fixed date. Lilies grow from bulbs, symbolic of regeneration and rebirth.  Spring the season we celebrate Easter and Passover is when new growth, even before the sprouting of last year’s seeds, emerges from bulbs. We wear new clothes to symbolize this newness.

As we come together to celebrate, we are connecting to one another. As well we are expressing humanity’s roots. Our ancient religions and spiritual paths, even those lost to history live again in our minds and hearts. Yes, there are reasons we celebrate linked to historical events, and yes there are links within us to peoples and even to places in our distant past that we are part of through the symbols and rituals we incorporate. The chocolate rabbits, the marshmallow chicks, the flowers and feasts, even the lovely Easter hats are of greater significance to us than we might think, for our celebration is enhanced by these echoes from our shared human history.

Eggs are Delicious, Nutritious and Versatile

Cooking with heart Though I’ve never had it or made it myself, I remember Goldenrod Eggs–a dish made with hard boiled eggs that my mother served at luncheon parties. The eggs were carefully hard cooked—never boiled as this turns the yolks green. The whites were chopped up and stirred into a white cream sauce. This was spread over toast with the crusts cut off and made into triangles. The yolks were then pressed through a sieve and sprinkled over the top of the creamed whites.

This was a pretty dish yet far too labor intensive for me. Besides, I prefer hard boiled eggs cut up and made into egg salad or stuffed—but not by me. I can’t get the whites out of the shells easily. However in the days when I was little there was more time for cooking because life was simpler and less hectic. In addition, women like my mom had luncheons in their homes because her friends were home with their kids too and did not have to go out to work.

Easter brings thoughts of eggs, coloring them, cooking them, eating them. As a child I disliked eggs intensely. They were always served me in an egg cup with the top off the shell. I didn’t care for the taste much. Still, whether I wanted to or not I had to eat them because I couldn’t leave the table until I did. For some reason our egg spoons were silver which quickly tarnished from the yolks of the eggs, and this somehow made the experience even worse. It was many years before I was able to eat eggs with pleasure.

To prepare dishes with eggs requires careful timing. For garlic fried eggs with parsley—our breakfast favorite, slice garlic into butter, break eggs over it, cut parsley over them, wait until they are just set, then turn off the stove and turn the eggs over to finish cooking lightly. This insures that the whites are firm and the yolks cooked yet a little runny. Separating raw yolks from whites, is now simple since I learned the trick of holding the yolk in my hand as the white slips through my fingers. My Lemon Cloud Pudding is easy to make doing this.

I have fond memories of sharing a simple lunch of warm hard boiled eggs peeled and mashed with a little mayonnaise, some salt and maybe some chopped parsley with my best friend as our little ones played together. How tasty the eggs were with some saltine crackers and a cup of tea. In those days I dyed my eggs with pellets of color from the supermarket. Some years ago I tried dying them with onion skins. They turned lovely purple and red colors.

This is an ancient way to do them: Save up your papery onion skins. Tie them around your eggs with string and simmer the eggs for 20 minutes. Very beautiful and fun. To make a tasty egg salad, mash yolks and whites together, add mayonnaise to taste and some of your favorite mustard. Add ground dried garlic, chopped parsley and curry powder if desired. Serve with crackers, toast, bread or just lettuce and a fork.  This is good for any meal, especially for one of after Easter leftover eggs.

Want an autographed copy of my new book Up To My Neck In Lemons? Send me a check for $15 Postage included, to P.O. Box 171, North Grafton, MA 01536,  and learn about lemons–actual, poetical and metaphorical. Make your life’s lemons into lemonade and enjoy my book a sip or so at a time.

Celebrating the New Season of Life

Peacae Village Forsythia 1When I was a young child Easter was an exciting time. I got to wear new clothes and a big straw hat. I remember one with a pretty grosgrain ribbon around it. The ribbon hung down in the back and in my memory it is blue. At Christmas and Easter we attended my father’s church as well as my mother’s. I liked his best. Not only did they sing hymns but also at Easter geraniums lined the church driveway for children like me to take home after the service. Then we would go to a relative’s for lunch and there would be candy after dessert. My mother did not approve of candy so we seldom had it at home unless someone brought it. That was my Easter celebration.

Easter and spring are synonymous. From time immemorial people have found ways to celebrate the coming of the warmer, lighter days and the passing of the dark, cold ones. When primitive cultures worshipped personalities that embodied seasons, they honored their gods and goddesses of spring, summer, fall and winter. Celebrations throughout the world centering on spring, especially in cold climates, had much in common with today’s Christian Easter.

The rising of Christ from the dead ends the period of self-deprivation or fasting known as Lent. The rebirth of the garden and the growth of new life is echoed in the Christian Easter observance. In the days before refrigeration and supermarkets, because the garden and the fields were bare and brown Lent was observed willy-nilly. In the cold climates all there was to eat were stored, dried vegetables, roots and grains. Nothing green was available. The growth of the first plants was something to be hailed as individuals foraged and found fresh vegetable matter to eat after the long winter months.

There was great cause to rejoice in the coming of the longer light and the warmer days. Different cultures evolved their own observances centering around their own deities and beliefs. Many of these customs have come down to us and are part of our observances today. The ways we celebrate our Easter, similar to our Christmas celebrations have become a conglomeration of the various cultures from which we derive our present day civilization. However they are all a reflection of the original reasons to celebrate: the coming of a time of growth and renewal after a period of hardship and sacrifice.

These customs all contain the affirmation that growth and change will proceed uninterrupted, and that the ultimate harvest will be a good one. The bunny that brings the Easer basket is Germanic in origin, a favorite of the goddess of spring. The symbolic eggs too come from there, as well as from other places representing symbols of new life. When you buy marshmallow Peeps or chocolate eggs, you echo the innocence of that beginning. The purchase of new clothes too is symbolic as is the Easter feast common to most families. What seems meaningful is not how we celebrate but that as from time immemorial we acknowledge the wonderful coming of warmer weather and brighter days for all.

Easter Eggs are More than Just Food

A favorite memory I have of Easter is of dying my eggs using onion skins. For weeks I saved up the papery wrappings of the outside of the onions. Now it was time to put them to use. Using string I secured the onion skins to my eggs and set them on to boil. The results were quite lovely and I was grateful to my friend Maggie for sharing her knowledge of how eggs were originally colored in her native homeland.

Eggs have always had mythological significance. The oldest recorded writings the Vedas of India, say the world evolved from a cosmic egg. According to Wikepedia other mythologies featuring creation and eggs include the Egyptian, the Phoenician, the Greek, the Chinese and the Finnish. As all life hatches from eggs—whether those of mammals or of egg layers, it make perfect sense that a holiday that began as a fertility celebration would feature them.

Easter is essentially a spring festival. The Christian expression of it also relates to life and generation of which eggs are a symbol. Red dyed eggs have been found buried at Bronze Age sites. These were surely connected to the worship of the pre-Christian deity, the goddess in charge of spring farm and field fertility. The name Easter derives from the name Eostre, the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring or Ostara the Germanic version of the goddess’s name.

How the rabbit came to be associated with Easter and eggs is another story. A rabbit relative associated with the goddess, the hare a strong, somewhat fierce animal is nocturnal and its babies unlike those of rabbits are born with eyes open. Some say the figure on the surface of the moon is that of a hare. The hare has also been associated with the moon because its gestation period is the same 28 days. Thus the goddess’s sacred animal came to be part of Easter.

Despite their differences, the hare became a rabbit when Germans immigrated to the United States in the 1600s and settled in Pennsylvania, spreading out from there to the surrounding states. Their Easter celebrations did not catch on right away, however, because of the stronger puritan influence that suppressed what was thought to be essentially too pagan in its expression. It is most likely that children envious of Easter goodies and fun influenced the universality of the celebration so that eventually it spread everywhere.

Easter eggs continue to be important and many households will overflow with them after the holidays. My favorite way to use hard boiled Easter eggs is in egg salad sandwiches. This recipe is for 6 eggs. I don’t peel them but instead break them in half and scoop out the insides. Chop and mash with ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon tarragon, Salt, pepper, a tablespoon or more of horseradish sauce and ½ teaspoon of dry mustard. Add ¼ cup finely chopped celery, and ¼ cup finely chopped onion. If you like curry flavor, add a teaspoon or so to taste.

Easter Time Remembrances

Rabbit in Cabbage 2While I am quite fond of them now, as a child I disliked eggs intensely. I vividly remember sitting in front of an eggcup containing a boiled egg and staring at the hateful thing as it grew cold. The rule was that I couldn’t get up from the table until I had finished whatever meal I was supposed to be eating. Sadly, I hated to sit still and perhaps would have been termed hyperactive if such a term had existed then. However, sooner or later I suppose I must have swallowed the contents of the eggcup and been released from my chair. The eating of it is not recorded in my memory.

While I certainly have some happy Easter memories I also have one that is not so. However, it is still vivid in my mind even after the many years filled with all the things I surely have forgotten. This was during World War II. My parents kept chickens, both for eggs and for food. We had quite a large flock of hens, and as I recall a rooster or two. There were times when they laid many more eggs than we needed. As anyone who has kept them will know, chickens lay in cycles, sometimes more sometimes less. When we had overage, my parents would sell the eggs to friends and occasionally to acquaintances.

This particular Easter I might have been eight or ten. My parents had too many eggs and decided to have an Easter egg hunt. All of their friends and most of their acquaintances had children so there were plenty of guests anticipated. The adults would have cocktails while the children hunted for eggs, and the person who found the most got a prize. While they hid them, I was told to stay in my room so I would not see where they were. Later they decided I ought not to participate because it was up to the guests to find them.

Fast forward to a happy memory: When my oldest daughters were grown enough to know about the Easter bunny they decided there ought to be one for the parents. Their father and I hid candy eggs for them and their younger siblings in various places in the house. Each year they in turn spent their own money for candy eggs for us and hid them in the kitchen, having told us it was off limits to hide eggs. Their delight as we hunted was a great joy, and what fun we had uncovering the Parent Easter bunny’s gifts.

Holidays often trigger memories of times gone by. These can be a treasure to hold and caress, most especially if they concern any who have passed on from this life. If there is sadness for us in them, perhaps it can be tempered by the happiness of our recollections. The most precious memories are those that remain for us to recount and perhaps to share with those who come after us. I once recorded my father on tape telling me about the chickens he had as a boy. There were only a few and they didn’t last long. Perhaps they were the inspiration for the ones he had as an adult that laid the eggs I so disliked yet remember so well.

An Easter Basket of Memories

Rabbit in Cabbage 2On Easter my family usually went to dinner with Great Aunt Alice. Until my sister was born when I was 8, I was always the only child present. Aunt Alice had several toys she would bring out to amuse me. One was a little truck loaded with colorful blocks. They had letters, numbers and pictures on them. Even now I can see that red and yellow toy with a string to pull it by. The bed of the truck was loaded with the blocks, and I was always careful to put them back when it was time to go upstairs to dinner.

The other toy was a very special, ancient rabbit that lived inside a head of cloth lettuce. When it was wound–only adults were allowed to do that, and the golden knob on the side was pulled out, the rabbit head would emerge, extend itself and turn. Its ears would rise into the air. Then it would chew on the small piece of cloth lettuce in its mouth. When it finished, it would retract into the cloth lettuce with a little snap as the ears went back against its head.

I thought of that rabbit when I was contemplating what I would write for this column. I wish I had it now. I remember my children being shown it when they were little. Though I don’t know if they remember it the way I do. I loved patting it. It was covered in soft, white actual fur. It did not play music or do anything more than just that. I believe it had been in the family at least since my Great Aunt was a child. when I was contemplating my column and it leapt vividly into my mind as though I had seen it yesterday.

Once we arrived and took off our coats, the adults stood around and drank cocktails, while I had ginger ale. Aunt Alice, who favored simple appetizers, always served a plate of peanut butter on crackers and there were also nuts in a bowl. Too young to read, I sat on the big rug and played with the blocks. Dinner was served upstairs in a large dining room. The oval mahogany table gleamed with silver and cut glass. The platters and bowls of food were brought in by women in black uniforms with white aprons. There was usually soup, then a roast and vegetables, and finally, dessert, followed by fingerbowls to dip fingers into and cloth napkins to dry them with. My treat would be the chocolates for after dinner, something we never had at home. My mother did not think it was healthy to eat candy and never bought it.

Time is a strange accordion. It can compress decades into years, and years into moments. I can see so clearly the large thick rug I sat on to play with the alphabet blocks and watch again the white bunny with the pink glass eyes rising up out of the faded green cloth leaves. It looks so real as it turns its head, the ears rise into the air and it chews on its bit of green cloth. I can feel again the soft fur as I pat the head and the ears, stiff with wire beneath the fur. What was only yesterday has added itself to now creating an Easter basket of memories for me to enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

A Very Special Easter Bunny

I have many memories associated with Easter, dating back to my childhood and continuing on through the years between then and now. In the days when ladies wore hats to church, as a child I wore a straw hat with a wide brim and a ribbon tied around it that hung down my back. My father would always buy my mother and me corsages, a gardenia for me and an orchid for her. I loved the scent of the gardenia. However, there was no Easter basket, candy, or hiding of eggs. After church we usually went to my Great Aunt Alice’s for Easter dinner.

When I was married and had two young daughters of my own I used to sew Easter outfits for them–little spring coats and pretty dresses. We always hid candy eggs around the living room. When my daughters were old enough to do some independent purchasing, they planned a special surprise for their parents. They walked to the local candy store and spent their own money on Easter candy, although not for themselves. Then on Easter morning they got up early and created an Easter egg hunt for their parents.

I will always remember coming down into the kitchen and seeing the foil wrapped eggs gleaming from their hiding places. Then two little voices called out “Surprise!” Bright in my memory are the two dear faces wreathed in smiles. “The Parent Easter Bunny came and hid eggs for you to find,” they told their father and me. What fun it was to discover where the eggs were hidden. What a pleasure it was for them as well to create this wonderful experience. It continued for some years, and each Easter their father and I looked forward to it.

Time and tide move us onward. More children came along to hunt for eggs and enjoy the Easter celebrations. The girls went off to college and began their own lives. Later on when they were married and grown, one lived too far away to celebrate at Easter with us. However the other lived close enough to drive over. We would go to a very special candy maker in the vicinity. Together we picked out candy for the grandchildren, and she took it home for the Easter Bunny to give them on Easter morning. Although I didn’t get to see their faces when they discovered their gifts, I had the pleasure of participating in their happiness.

Throughout the Western hemisphere, Easter is in part a religious holiday and in part a celebration of the coming of spring. Since before recorded history human beings have honored this time. Archeologists have found red dyed eggs dedicated to the German goddess of spring in Europe. There are many traditions from every where in Europe that are part of the way we celebrate today. Most spiritual paths and religions have their own spring celebrations. The dear Easter Bunny is a precious reminder to us that the days have grown longer, the trees will be budding, and life emerges joyfully in the new season.

Laura and diana 3The Parent Bunnies are all grown up.