This Easter began with my having the privilege to be able to peacefully reflect about the passage of “time and the river.”
My thoughts are roaming through a panoramic of images from my shyly looking at the camera in my new and only suit with contrasting lapels that this 7-year-old wore while walking with his father and brother through pretty much his entire world in the four blocks from next to Newton Creek to St. Mark’s Lutheran church on the White Horse Pike in Oaklyn, N.J.
When we would drive the four blocks and park in the bank lot, we could stop at Oaklyn Bakery. Mother did not walk with us, perhaps because my sister is six years younger than I.
Even today Easter brings up the lyrics and tune of “In your Easter bonnet” even as images of mother’s hats fade into the rarity of hats now except at the Kentucky Derby, although I sort of remember them at the Preakness. (I do not relate to Queen Elizabeth or her family wearing hats even though one lives near me now. Somewhere along the way the tradition of new suits for Easter will remain locked in photos as this year my Easter outfit consists of my birthday gifts of a golf shirt and khakis.)
This father/grandfather decided to apply the tradition I started of understanding why we celebrate our holidays. Easter Sunday is celebrated after the first full moon after the March equinox to celebrate Jesus Christ resurrection following his crucifixion. The March equinox is the celestial equator, the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator, from south to north. On a spiritual level it is thought to represent the struggle between darkness and light, death and life. It occurs when night and day will be equal, and the journey of the sun to get there represents the journey of the universe.
As the decades passed, symbols became part of the celebrations for what began as religious events.
Santa Claus is the example that arose with connection to the birth of Christ. Related to Easter, the date of Jesus’ resurrection, the Easter hare was created. A hare was selected as the symbol since it was thought to be similar to a hermaphrodite, which has both male and female sex organs. The idea is that hares could reproduce without losing their virginity is thought to be similar to the Virgin Mary so hares appeared in illuminated manuscripts and paintings in Northern Europe along with the Virgin and Christ Child.
There is a certain utility associated with the Germanic people reflected in the sound of their language not being confused with the romantic languages from the Mediterranean countries. Similarly, their tradition was that initially the Easter hare served as a judge on the night before the holiday to only bring eggs and candy to children who behaved.
Does the selection of hares to bring a pleasurable experience to children who behave provide a new meaning to Gene Autry’s singing “Here comes Peter Cottontail, hoppin’ down the bunny trail?”
Why eggs? Georg Franck von Franchenau’s 1682 manuscript “De Ovis Paschalibis (About Easter Eggs)” refers to the German tradition of Easter eggs. Why, you may wonder, how did he sell a book about eggs? Was he aware that hares that do not lay eggs?
For those of us who cannot read German, eggs were fertility symbols not eaten during Lent. In England the tradition started of children knocking on doors on the eve of Lent in search of eggs. Decorating eggs evolved through the colors from the newly sprung flowers representing spring.
The German Protestants brought the Easter traditions to the Pennsylvania Dutch area in eastern Pennsylvania in the 18th century. This stirs meaningful memories of my standing by the pillar in the church in Heidelberg, Germany, where legend is Martin Luther stood when he denounced the pope for charging people to be members of the Catholic church.
The “official” start of the Protestant reformation is listed as Oct. 31, 1517. The lecturer said that Luther’s followers fled the pope’s persecution by sailing to Amsterdam and boarding Dutch ships to sail to the new world, particularly the Delaware River, where they were called “Pennsylvania Dutch” because of the ships.
My father’s grandfather, a Lutheran, arrived in Philadelphia when my grandfather was 5. Similarly, in the 16th century the Amish, or Amish Mennonites, founded as a rebellion against Catholic and Protestants, sailed up the Rhine River from Zurich to Amsterdam and then on Dutch ships to the Delaware River and settled in Lancaster, Penn.
Childish images include the excitement of seeing the milk chocolate head of the bunny sticking up from the green straw lining the basket. I still laugh thinking about the time my sister hid her basket so my brother and I could not raid it — so suspicious — but not so that our Dalmatian Gallant could not find and eat the chocolate filled eggs. (Our dog threw up before he was finished and was fine.)
Another time my sister mistakenly hid the chocolate behind a chair forgetting the heater outlet. As parents, we used food dyes for a family event of decorating eggs until plastic eggs with treats were used for the hunt.
Sweet memories of trying to ensure that the four years separating my sons did not eliminate my younger one from finding some eggs. The middle child was always fine and pretty much left to fend for herself much as I was as a middle one.
“Time and the river” will continue to change everything except the importance of reflecting on those who helped create my past, enjoying my present, and anticipating my future in light of the hope provided by the real reason for Easter.
The author lives in Santa Barbara.