Growing up CofC had meant eschewing major traditional Christian events like Christmas and Easter on account of them both being pagan festivals, rebranded and rebadged.
So for 40 years, I didn’t have a particularly churchy Christmas or observe Holy Week. The CofC in Canberra didn’t ever plan a shindig on Good Friday, while the church I grew up with in Singapore used to spend that public holiday hunkered down in a whole-day retreat.
(At some point in the ’90s, the leadership decided that our annual retreat should really be called the annual Advance — which, on hindsight, is SUCH a typically Singaporean thing to say. (“Towards excellence, prosperity, and progress!”)
And while that recommendation missed the point entirely of why churches have retreats in the first place, and while I joined in the collective groan-eyeroll young adults are obnoxiously famous for, we turned up anyway — 150~ of us advancing en masse to the outskirts of the central shopping district to pray, learn, eat nice food and discuss godly things before taking a group photo.
By the mid-noughties — certainly by the time I was in Australia — they were back to calling it a Retreat. I don’t remember a single lesson from those halcyon days working out my faith in the basement function room of the Pine Tree Country Club. But I remember sprawling on the carpet while I captured our group remarks on mahjong paper — mind-mapping was still very business vogue then — and hoping to score a seat next to my crush of the season and just, generally, enjoying myself between lectures.)
We never did the Easter Bunny, though. Unlike Australia, Easter doesn’t even qualify for a public holiday in Singapore, much less two. In contrast, Australia gets Easter Sunday and make-up holiday Easter Monday. TWO DAYS of state-sanctioned religious chocolate binging that irrationally now involves the Bilby and typically starts a lot earlier than March/April. Supermarkets have now given up distinguishing the two Christian holidays and stuff their shelves with hot cross buns the second Christmas rolls over into Boxing Day. The second.
It’s a cynical grab for money and a bit of a worry, but then Australia makes excellent chocolate. Most of us Singaporeans didn’t grow up with backyards (you’d have to be a multimillionaire at minimum). Plus, Cadbury chocolate was especially pricey before our FTA with Australia and why would you fling perfectly good chocolate around in hot and humid Singapore and risk having them melt before you get to them? The crap chocolate coins we get from Chinatown are bad enough.
All this to say, I didn’t ever Easter and I didn’t do Easter Bunny. But now that I’ve made my peace with the faith of other traditions… now that I’m relearning what the weightier matters of the law might be — I’m slowly wading in. I’m learning about the hush of Ash Wednesday and the simple joys of Pancake Tuesday, about different religious calendars and the varying lengths of Lent. About how other traditions and Christian subcultures — and many of them are whole cultures of people — demonstrate love and devotion this season. Some through ritual, some through retreats, some by doing nothing at all.
Which brings me to Friday.
We didn’t do anything flash for Good Friday last year because of Covid, but traditionally these guys troop up to Mt Ainslie with real coffee making facilities and homemade hot cross buns and finish the afternoon with the Easter story for the kids.
This year, we opened our home. And we had such a fun time even though it turned into quite a hot day.
I’m not great with setting and keeping traditions. It’s a lot harder to make a fuss when you’re on your own and away from family; there’s just much less motivation and help. It’s also different in Australia; there’s a lot more long-distance travelling for everyone, which leaves little time or opportunity for others to party-hop between family and friends over the public holiday. There are years when Christmas deteriorates into a truly quiet, slightly depressing affair. Those are the times I have to work at not dwelling on what I left behind in Singapore.
But as Arddun and Atticus get older, as they start to remember these things and form attachments to traditions and what it means to be this hybrid of East and West, I sense my old entertaining mojo returning. At the very least, I hope they have memories of their home filled with people and food and laughter.
Just like I do.
About Easter and paganism…
Growing up, I was taught that Easter had its roots in the worship of Ishtar, the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess for fertility and sex (hence bunnies and eggs, because what could be more prolific or sexy?) The consolation that later Christians might have appropriated such a pagan festival and sanitised it for puritanical sensibilities did nothing to assuage the faith tradition of my youth: Easter is fundamentally pagan, goes the CofC reasoning, and unbiblical. And so we must abort.
Ishtar, as it turns out, is pagan (tick) and is the Mesopotamian goddess of love, war and sex (tick). But her symbols apparently aren’t bunnies and eggs, but the lion, the gate, and the rosette or eight-pointed star and if you’re seriously getting Game of Throne vibes here, I’m sure it’s because GRRM borrowed from everywhere.
More importantly, ‘Ishtar’ might sound an awful lot like ‘Easter’ but that’s where the coincidences end because Ishtar isn’t actually related to Easter. The Jewish Passover celebrating Jesus is.
Easter has never been a celebration of Ishtar. Our earliest evidence for the celebration of Easter as a holiday distinct from the Jewish holiday of Passover comes from Christian texts written in around the middle of the second century AD, which all refer to Easter as a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
Of course, these early Christian sources weren’t written in English, so they don’t call the holiday “Easter”; instead, the holiday was originally known in Greek as Πάσχα (Páscha) and in Latin as Pascha. The name Pascha is derived from the Aramaic word פַּסְחָא (Pasḥā), meaning “Passover.”Spencer McDaniel, who goes full nerd on this subject and I love him for it
Since reading up on the subject (lightly — I haven’t gone down the rabbit hole of a theological library yet), I’ve encountered slightly differing accounts on how or when or whether the Anglo-Saxon spring festival (with the bunnies and the theme of rebirth and the eggs) got conflated with, or even supplanted by, this Jewish passover celebrating Christ’s resurrection. I’m now inclined to believe that both events were celebrated separately until a conscious decision was made by the Council of Nicea in 325CE to have the passover celebrated on the first full moon following the spring equinox.
But these are early days of my foray into the origins of Jesus and Easter Bunny, and I have more questions than answers still.
That aside, all semi-serious historical accounts I’ve read so far have been unanimous in debunking the Ishtar = Easter myth.
Anyway. It’s piqued my interest enough to want to learn more.