Easter traditions that give me a feeling of renewal
I have a strong affinity for Easter as a holiday, for a lot of reasons. Firstly, I was born on Easter, in our very own Jackson General Hospital, which makes about as native a Jackson Countian you can get, short of being born on the courthouse lawn during the Fourth of July parade (side question: Anyone know who the last baby born at Jackson General was? I’d like the answer to that bit of trivia).
Having been born on Easter, I’ve always kind of considered it my personal holiday, even when it doesn’t fall on my birthday. Maybe because I also love spring, and when Easter falls in April, it feels like the true official start of spring, when the Easter lilies are at peak bloom, the trees have started to get those fuzzy green buds, and the wind feels warmer that it has in months. I just like that Easter feels like a celebration of the time when earth is new.
And in that tradition, I celebrated Easter in a completely new way this year. See for most of my life, Easter has been spent in Logan, W.Va., with my mom’s half of the family. We’d roll into Mud Fork late Saturday afternoon, and my Grandma Betty would be waiting for me with a colander full of freshly boiled eggs and a Paas egg-dying kit. I wouldn’t even wait to unpack, just headed right for the counter, where she had little paper cups of water waiting for me and that bent-wire egg dipper.
Some years it would be the straight-up dye tablets; some years she’d get fancy and we’d have pearl paints or wax crayons or stickers. But every year I dyed the eggs, and Grandma Betty would put them out on her table display. In the morning, we’d wake up way too early to see what the Easter bunny had brought us (my particular fondness for Cadbury eggs had always been noted), and then there would be the mad rush to get everyone dressed and ready for the Easter Sunday service at Mt. Carmel Freewill Baptist Church.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that of all the services in the year, Easter is the Super Bowl of church services, as well it should be. After all, it’s the tentpole moment of the Christian religion, the momentous day that sets us apart from all the other religions in the world. And no one does up an Easter morning service like West Virginia Baptists. Everyone comes scrubbed and dressed like it's church Fashion Week, every kid looks cute as a button, and the preachers always give their best sermons.
But what I liked best about the service were the things I knew to expect: I’m going to hear the choir sing “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?” I’m going to hear the Easter story. As a child, I was going to spend an hour downstairs in the Mt. Carmel basement, making an Easter-themed craft. And then I knew I was going to come upstairs, sing another song and then get a sugar Church Egg on the way out the door. I’m not sure Easter can even happen if you don’t have at least once chocolate-covered Church Egg (my preference being for peanut butter filling), with a delicate little royal frosting flower on top.
And then we’d head back to grandma’s and get changed out of our good clothes, and then she’d send us on an egg hunt out in the yard so we’d get out from underfoot while she finished Easter dinner. And Easter dinner always consisted of ham, green beans, some chicken tenders (Cousin Josh only eats chicken), rolls, macaroni salad, deviled eggs and a Nu Era Bakery white cake. We’d eat, play with our Easter things, then finally head home, another Easter in the books.
But just like how spring is never the same two years in a row, my Easters aren’t same anymore. Sometimes it feels like Easter is becoming just any old holiday, when it used to be one of my favorites. Too old for egg hunting in a church parking lot. Too old for egg dying. Too old to feel that sense of renewal. Maybe I’ve just let myself get too lax in keeping up the old traditions, and I can’t find my way back to them.
Then I spent the holiday in California, and all that love for Easter came rushing back.
Now granted, it wasn’t a Mud Fork and Mt. Carmel celebration, but adults, if you ever find yourself getting down about a holiday, just find yourself a child to celebrate it with. All it took for me to really celebrate Easter again was my 2-and-a-half-year-old niece. For the first time in about two years, I dyed eggs. And I’ll be honest with everyone: I did not do a great job. Remember when I did that column about cracking boiled eggs so you can get the shells off easy? Well that’s great for deviled eggs; Easter eggs, by contrast, are supposed to be boiled and uncracked. Guess which genius Aunt Ceazy forgot that and cracked every egg in the pot? Lucky for me, once the pearl egg dye was on, Lilly dubbed them “Hatching Dragon Eggs,” so I looked less like the aunt who didn’t know how to dye eggs and more like a creative genius.
And no, we didn’t get all dressed up Easter morning, but Lilly put on the cutest little princess dress (complete with crown and scepter), and after a showing of “The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town” (a Jules Bass production which is suspiciously alike to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”), we went on an egg hunt. And y’all, I am scared now for her future egg hunts and the other child competitors, because she was literally the only person hunting for eggs, and yet she went after those things in attack mode. She flew around that yard picking up eggs, running at top speed, spotting egg after egg (with a few hints) and then cracked them open to enjoy a handful of jellybeans, Smarties and stickers. Had there been another child, I have no doubt she’d have left them in her princess-glitter dust.
And instead of having to suffer through ham, we enjoyed my California-made deviled eggs alongside Easter Hibachi. My brother has become quite the Hibachi grill chef, and he does it right: cut veggies, cut meats, tasty fried rice, all cooked to perfection on a flat-top grill. I even sprang for $20 in shrimp, and we all couldn’t wait to sit down to a tableful of Japanese-inspired Easter food.
But Ranger, my brother’s dog, had other plans. In the grand tradition of “That dog never touches food that isn’t his,” my brother turned his back on the shrimp for a minute, and Ranger ate every one. Every one. There wasn’t a shrimp for grilling or even flipping into someone’s mouth. Colton about died, but honestly, the laugh it gave me was worth the $20 I spent on shellfish that I would never get to eat. I’d have paid double that to see the look on my brother’s face when he realized all the shrimp were gone.
And so when I went to bed that night, I added a little moment in my prayers, a little thank you for a wonderful Easter that reminded me why I loved the holiday so much as a child, and why I can look forward to celebrating it in the future. Like springtime, it’ll never be the same Easter twice, but like spring, it’ll make me feel renewed.
Also, I promised the Lord that if I was in charge of future Easter hunts, I’d set some very clear ground rules for Lilly. You parents of the children she would have run over trying to get a candy-filled egg can send your thanks to me later.