Even Christmas is not as respected and celebrated. It’s comforting to have something so nearly-universal.
I should be used to it by now: cultural confusion. Born in Venezuela to an American mother who was raised with nuns and a Czech father whose own parents were of Catholic and Jewish descent but no one practiced any religion, it was never going easy or clear where the boundaries were, but add marriage and movement amongst family members in three different continents, and it’s still confusing, 30-odd years on, just who’s doing what when and where.
My American family mostly go to visit each other in nearby cities, spending Good Friday at home and then Easter Sunday visiting. My English friends have mostly escaped to the Caribbean. My brother who lives in Caracas, a 35 minute drive from the Caribbean coast, has escaped the Caribbean to go skiing in the US.
In the US, Americans just take Good Friday off; in Latin America (as one would expect) they take off all of Holy Week. But it’s the UK I find most intriguing, for this year my husband told me they take Good Friday AND Easter Monday off. Easter Monday?! Whoever heard of such a thing?
Weren’t the Crucifixion and Resurrection done and dusted by Sunday evening? Are the Brits relying on some historical time zone sleight-of-hand?
How surprisingly indulgent of the usually terse and atheistic Brits to take such a long weekend – much to my consternation when I wanted to make a deposit into my current account on Friday, figuring if they were to be closed on Monday, they would at least have the decency to be open on Friday.
And, yet, it’s charming. Easter, I am told by my banker friends, is one of the most cherished holidays on the financial calendar precisely because it is semi-global, encompassing the markets of all of Europe and North and South America. Even Christmas is not as respected and celebrated. It’s comforting to have something so nearly-universal.
After all, ‘Catholic’ means ‘universal’ – from the Greek ‘katholikos’ of ‘kata’ (‘pertaining to’) and ‘holos’ (‘whole’). My closest friends always speculated that is why I turned to the Church increasingly as I grew older: to find comfort in steadiness.
Wherever I was living at the moment, or even visiting temporarily, I would always make an effort to go to Sunday mass at the nearest church. And, yes, the routine was reassuring: regardless of the language or culture beyond the church walls, or whatever the stage of my own life, the prayers and the routine would always be the same.
I could join the congregation and say the prayers in my own language and yet be united with those around me, knowing that we all mean and want the same thing, knowing that this will still unite us wherever we are next week, as well, because our family is global and focuses on forgiveness and acceptance.
So, as I celebrate Easter in a village church in Shropshire, I naturally think of my own family spread around the world, whether they are skiing, or swimming in the sea or finding the Easter bunny’s chocolate eggs.
We will all be thinking of each other and when we kneel in our respective churches I know what they will be saying: the same thing I will, and this routine is tremendously powerful in our modern age of too much choice and too much freedom and too much self-indulgence, which makes choosing a tube of toothpaste a vertiginous and nauseating exercise.
I mean am I really freer by having 27 types of toothpaste to choose from as opposed to six? Couldn’t six varieties meet my needs just as well, without causing me such anxiety and wasting my time every time I go shopping?
And this is what I reflect on every Easter, a holiday that is far less mercenary than Christmas: how happy we can be when we focus on the longings and prayers that unite us, rather than the material things designed to make us covet them and stratify us. That realization could be the key to our own well-overdue resurrection.