When I was growing up, Easter meant going to church three times in four days. It was all about religion, and ceremony: reenactments of the washing of the feet and the nailing to the cross, abstainence from meat on Good Friday and the glorious breaking of that forty-day annual chapter sans junk food known as Lent.
When I was eighteen, living in Sweden during that year that signified the bridge between my childhood and my adulthood, Easter meant the sampling of forgein culture and the savouring of new experiences. It meant lighting bonfires and observing an Easter tradition similiar to Halloween, where little girls dressed up as påskkärringar (Easter witches) and went door to door collecting sweets in baskets or saucepans. It meant painting eggs and feasting on a traditional Easter feast of herring and schnapps. After eighteen years of experiencing Easter through a very religious lense, it was refreshing and exciting to see it celebrated in such a different way. This was the beginning of a time in my life where the gaining of cultural experiences would become my currency.
When I was twenty-two, I was (surprisingly to many) already a mother, and my son celebrated his very first Easter. Easter suddenly meant bunny rabbits and bilbies and his first taste of chocolate. For the next few years, Easter was a magical time of childlike innocence and excitement, of counting down sleeps with Ben till Easter Sunday and watching him squeal with delight when he discovered his chocolate treats next to his bed when that morning finally arrived.
When I was twenty-seven, living in Sicily with my now five-year-old boy, Easter once again meant the witnessing of a different cultural approach to Easter. This time it was about parades centered around enormous statues, the entire village congregating together in the streets, fireworks during the day and right into the night and banquets of food prepared painstakingly by mammas and nonnas. Easter in Sicily, like so many things in Sicily, is all about spectacle. I felt both overwhelmed and honoured to have been able to witness this spectacle, but I also started to question within myself where religion ends and spectacle begins, not just in this culture, but in all cultures.
When I was in my late twenties, Easter meant taking the time to gather together with family. As Ben started to read independently, it also meant taking the chance to marry education with adventure and I started organising complicated Easter Egg treasure hunts for him with rhyming cryptic clues, similiar to the treasure hunt we did for his ninth birthday. As it turned out, he's not much of a sweet tooth, and he savours the challenge more than the chocolate :)
When Annalisa was born, Easter meant new beginnings. The symbolism of new life carried particular signifiance for me that year: I had recently turned thirty and become the mother of a daughter. I felt like I had rounded a corner, both physically and figuratively. I now saw the world through the eyes of the mother of a daughter. We had kept her placenta and umbilical chord after the birth and at Easter we buried the umbilical chord and planted a tree on top of it (I'll tell you some other time what I did with the placenta!)
I remember wishing that afternoon that life could remain forever just the way it was that day; a day filled with hope, a sleeping angel in my arms and a fluffy bunny toy in her crib. I wished I could always protect her from the harshness of the world.
But life did change. Frighteningly. Irrevocably. Spectacularly.
Easter this year crept up on me and its significance, in comparison to my relationship breakdown and everything that came along with it, seemed negligible. But then, on Good Friday I had a quiet moment to myself in the garden while one of my children was sleeping and the other was on an areoplane. And as I collected my thoughts, I realised that, far from being insignifiant, this year Easter means more to me than it ever has before.
Because this year I truly understand the meaning behind the Easter story for the first time. This year I understand the true meaning of betrayal and sacrifice and unconditional love. This year I truly understand the necessity for forgiveness. I understand that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. I still have a long, long way to go in that journey, but at least I know where I'm heading.
And this year, for the first time in my life, I acknowledge, without guilt, that I believe in God, but not religion.
It has taken me thirty-one years of trial and error, searching and questioning, confusion and resentment, rejection and experimentation, anger and disillusionment, to find the courage to admit that. It took me thirty years to realise that that was even an option.
So this year, I didn't go to church three times in four days. I didn't go at all, although although many of the people I love and respect did so. This year I acknowledge that I don't need to make a choice between being religious or not being religious. I am no longer afraid to say I believe in God either, because believing in God can be separate from believing in religion.
This year, on Easter Sunday I sat quietely for a moment all by myself and I thanked God for giving me the strength to crucify the toxic circumstances of my past and the insight to resurrect my thoughts and my way of perceiving the situations and the people around me.
This year, I feel like my perspective on Easter has finally reached the place where I need it to be.