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.

Easter is a Feast of Joy

Image         About two months before Easter chocolate bunnies wrapped in gold foil begin to appear in the stores alongside Passover coins and other items relating to these two great annual spring festivals. Slowly but surely a variety of items crowd the shelves: yellow marshmallow baby chicks and rabbits, egg dying kits, and more. As the time grows closer to the holidays, beside the glorious smelling hyacinths in the market, fragrant lilies bloom.

For me as a young child Easter was always more about flowers and the occasional candy treats it would provide. My dad’s corsages for my mother and me were a big part of my joy in the holiday. I also loved it that we got to go to my dad’s church as well as my mom’s because I enjoyed singing the hymns and was given a plant to take home. As I recall it was usually a potted geranium. Hats were important too, and nice clothes–perhaps even new ones.

As the time for celebration approaches, shoppers carry away the flowers displayed on supermarket tables. Parents make up baskets with candy eggs and other tasty treats for their children. Meanwhile, Passover foods go home to pantry shelves. Like Christmas and Hanukah, Easter and Passover are celebrated primarily with special foods that pronounce the symbolism of the season. However, both of these spring feasts are rich with family centered celebrations unrelated to a focus on commercialism or gift giving.

Easter and Passover are different from each other, yet both tell a story that is important to the traditions of Christian and Jewish peoples. Both are joyous and raise the spirits of those who celebrate. This season of joy even blooms in the hearts of those who do not celebrate it religiously. The flowers and the candy, the candles and the rituals call out to the traditions that go back more than two thousand years. There is a kind of memory that is built into our brains and resonates to these symbols, increasing the feast of our celebration.

My mother did not usually cook for us on Easter. Either my great aunt or my grandmother did the honors. I remember roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, or turkey or ham, and all the wonderful foods that went with them. Mostly, though we got to go to the family feasts where I might be given a small Easter basket and was usually the only child present.

Once primitive people rejoiced at the coming of a time when trees blossomed and green herbs provided a variety to the stored, dried foods they had subsisted on through the cold months of winter. Imagine what it must have been like to make a salad or pick wild greens to fill mouths weary of winter fare. Now though we can enjoy fresh vegetables and meats all year round we have special foods to provide a feast that not only rejoices the heart but also reminds us that we honor the great traditions of faith that have for so long fed and sustained us.