The Ambivalence of Easter

 

Scarborough from Cumboots Brow, Easter 1977

Scarborough from Cumboots Brow, Easter 1977

Easter occurs this weekend, although the event has almost zero importance for me now that I live in California. On reflection, the decline in its significance seems remarkable, given that Easter was, and still is, a national holiday in Britain, and holds many ambivalent memories for me from the days when I lived there.

The photograph above shows my birth town, Scarborough, on a beautiful day during Easter, 1977. My color slide was taken from the curiously-named Cumboots Brow, and displays a vista over lush farmland to the suburban village of Scalby, then Scarborough Castle headland beyond that, and finally the North Sea on the horizon.

In terms of positive memories of Easter, as a kid, I naturally looked forward to the break from school offered by the Easter vacation, and also to the abundance of Easter eggs, hot cross buns, and similar treats.

On the negative side, the Christian Easter festival, which was supposedly what was being commemorated, brings back memories of its absurd and macabre claims, which teachers at our schools drilled into us. In my case, I had the misfortune to have to attend a Church of England School for a couple of years, where such superstitious nonsense was particularly rife, but in Britain even state schools promoted the religious agenda to a lesser extent.

Is Easter Christian or Pagan?

Is Easter a religious festival, or merely a celebration of Spring? Should it or shouldn’t it be an official holiday for everyone?

Most people in Britain seem to take it for granted (as I did before emigrating) that Easter should be a recognized holiday.

Conversely, when I talk to people in California about it, they often seem puzzled that it should be recognized as a secular holiday at all.

People sometimes seem surprised when I remind them that, unlike the USA, Britain has no “separation of church and state”. Indeed, England has an official state religion (Church of England Christianity), the bishops of which still sit unelected in the House of Lords. Few people in Britain seem to see any problem in having a Christian festival as a national holiday, even though the vast majority now practice no religion at all and are de facto atheists, whatever they choose to call themselves.

But what actually is being celebrated? After all, the term “Easter” has a pagan origin, in that it is derived from the name of a goddess named Ēostre. Is it not really just a celebration of the Springtime renewal of life? As I recall, that inconvenient reality seemed to reemerge frequently. For example, at the state school, we were instructed to create Easter cards, but thankfully it was specified that these should feature eggs and chicks, instead of a man nailed to a wooden cross.

At the church school, the priests insisted that, despite its morbid associations, their Easter festival was supposed to be a “victory” over death rather than a wallowing in the gory details. Even as a child, it struck me that their resurrection story made no sense. Those adults insisted that their leader had physically risen from the dead. When we questioned the current whereabouts of this Jesus who had supposedly “conquered death” and thus must obviously still be living somewhere, we were told that we couldn’t meet this immortal individual in the flesh because he had somehow “gone up to heaven”. But we already knew that “going up to heaven” was just a euphemism for dying, so is he supposed to be dead or alive?

Easter in Scarborough: the “Season” Begins

Easter had a more practical significance for me during my schooldays because, in Scarborough, in the 1970s (and perhaps even now), the weekend marked the start of “the Season”, when tourists began arriving for vacations in the town following the winter shutdown. Typically, the major influx of tourists occurred from Easter to September each year.

For a few years during the 1970s, my parents owned the “West Lodge Guest House”, which they opened to guests each Easter. That building is still open as a hotel today. I took the photo below during a visit to Scarborough in 2006.

West Lodge Guest House in 2006

West Lodge Guest House in 2006

Easter: Goodbye to All That

Until I wrote this article, it hadn’t occurred to me that emigrating to California freed me to enjoy the positive aspects of Easter, revolving around the Springtime rebirth of life, without all the baggage of the macabre and primitive religious connotations.

It’s just one more good thing to celebrate…

Location of the Heading Photograph

Due to tree growth since 1977, it seems that it may be difficult to reproduce the view at the head of this article now. Here is the latest Google Streetview image.

Postscript

The Daily Mash has just weighed in with a report about Easter!

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