When my brother was little, the family joke was that he would only allow his hair to be washed on high days and holidays, and the feasts of the Church.
Christmas and Easter would produce a sparklingly clean toddler ready to be taken to church with me and my sister to sit through the seemingly endless services. Good Friday went on for hours, three to be exact, Maundy Thursday Mass was long too. The Easter Vigil on Saturday night, however, was quite a different thing.
In those days the Church did things properly and the Vigil began at 11am. In the darkness, the priest led the congregation into the church by the light of the Easter Candle. A symbol of the risen Christ coming into the world, but also one resonant of pagan rituals and atavistic beliefs of the power of light over dark, and the fear of night.
Small children, unless going to be baptised, were left at home so it was only Mum, Anuk and I who walked through the deserted streets of the estate in the early hours of the morning, gorging on the chocolate, which we had all given up for Lent.
Those memories of Easter still permeate my view of the weekend and I find it sad that increasingly the religious side of the feast is being forgotten.
Not so in Europe where the processions take to the streets and sins are repented and resurrection celebrated in what has to be primal two fingers up to darkness and death. Here in the UK, however, we are swamped by a plethora of bunnies and eggs. The symbolism of which is a mystery to most people.
In fact very few people seem to know anything about Easter, which, whether you are a believer or not, is a great shame, for it is all part of our culture.
How can you access the art of the Renaissance if you do not know the Christian stories which so many paintings depict? How can you make sense of John Donne’s “Good Friday Riding Westward” or any of the other Metaphysical Poets? Or T.S. Elliot, or Stanley Spenser’s painting etc., etc.?
Without this knowledge everyone misses out, so remember Easter is not all about eggs and bunnies and there is a meaning to the hot cross bun you had with your coffee.