Easter, and feasts

This weekend is a long one, four days for Easter. One thing I like about the Easter break is that it is one public holiday that has resisted the urge to turn into a shopping frenzy. Even supermarkets are closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Years ago I read a Bon Appetit magazine that had a feature on a Greek Orthodox family’s Easter feast. It was beautifully styled of course, the family very photogenic and the food delicious. Many of the dishes served were laden with symbolic meaning or were traditional celebratory food. But what has stuck in my memory all these years were the photos of the family, extended and multi-generational, all sitting down to a large table laden with food and partaking in this ritual.

There was no such ritual in my family, where Easter seemed to be more about “having” to go to church, and not being allowed Easter eggs until after church. But I don’t remember a special Easter feast, and I think part of why that Bon Appetit article stuck in my mind was because it was the first time it had occurred to me that Easter was a “feast day” (and in fact the church’s greatest feast day of the year), in a very literal sense. Since my family didn’t celebrate with a feast, there wasn’t anything particularly feast-like about it.

My failure to register Easter as a feast day had nothing to do with a lack of religious conviction. My parents were avid church goers all their lives – my father still is.  The lack of feast had, I think, more to do with a puritanical streak in my mother’s upbringing that saw celebrations as unneecessary indulgences and a slippery slope leading directly to moral decay.

The church calendar is in fact filled with feast days. Feast days provide structure to the year and an opportunity to express gratitude (for a harvest), relief (that we didn’t die of cold), to celebrate births or acknowledge deaths.Specific rituals, whether food or activity based, lend distinct character to each feast. Hence – presents and cakes on birthdays, costumes and candy at Halloween, lamb, hot cross buns and chocolate eggs (a bunch of mixed metaphors) at Easter.

Every year, I debate whether this year I will ‘indulge’ for Easter, for Christmas, for birthday, for New Year. In general I decide I can’t be bothered. Or rather, I indulge in spending the ‘feast’ alone. There is nothing wrong with spending holidays alone, and nothing wrong with not cooking up a 5 course spread for one. What I do have to guard against is unconsciously embracing a puritanical attitude towards celebrations and shutting them out for fear they will result in my ruination.

Because I don’t think eating a 6-pack of hot cross buns at a sitting, once a year, is going to be the cause of my downfall.