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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Family tradition

A First(ish) Easter

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.

Except…

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.

May be an image of text that says "T Karney @pecunium Girl rabbits don't lay eggs either. PETERRAB ER ITSA"
So many questions.


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.

12 Christmas traditions to try out

I’d spoken before about how having a child has totally changed how I see tradition. Suddenly, I want lots. Where there was just me and Tony previously and we were happy to play it by ear for each major holiday, I’ve now gone all “Let Fairy Lights Drip from our Rooftop!!!” when it comes to Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Well, 2 Christmases ago I tried to put together a gingerbread Tardis for Tony – and failed. It seemed a great idea at the time – you know, I get the practice now, I get better over the years and when Arddun is finally old enough to help out, we can Do It Together for Daddy. Gingerbread Tardis – it’d be our thang. Traditional, yet geeky. Perfect.

Completely overlooked the fact that I’ve never baked gingerbread ANYTHING before.

Bought lights for the tree in 2011. They overheated and popped. No lights last year.

Forgot to buy stocking fillers for anyone.

I am still unthwarted. Along with New Year Resolutions, I’m guessing that new Christmas and CNY traditions are also going to be my thing. Inventing them, carrying them out, refining them along the years. Throwing out the ones that make Tony sigh with resignation and long-suffering, keeping the ones that bring genuine joy and require very little cleaning up after.

We went to Melbourne after Christmas last year, which was the centrepiece of our Christmas-New Year holiday. But we also had a combined Christmas lunch with another family which was something we really enjoyed. This year, as Arddun starts to understand even more about the world she’s a part of, I’m compiling a list of traditions that we may or may not try out.

Googled and found the following great suggestions

  1. New pajamas on Christmas Eve
    It’s summer for us during Christmas time, so I’m not sure how this might pan out. Will probably NOT get flannel PJs, but maybe something cool and cotton might work.
  2. Christmas Lights drive by in pajamas. Ice chocolate after
    I have a thing about children (and adults) wearing their home clothes or their sleep clothes out of the house. Never liked it, absolutely will forbid Arddun from doing it, think it’s slightly indecent somehow. BUT along with the new jammies perhaps, we might enjoy a collectively silly session on Christmas Eve of trawling the neighbourhood Christmas lights displays while wearing spanking-new rubber ducky pajama pants. And Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers. Of which we already own TWO pairs.
  3. Nativity scene
    I used to be quite weirded out about celebrating Christmas as Jesus’s birthday, because I’ve always been conscious about how Christmas – as we know it – was basically a pagan holiday rebranded around the 4th century. That said, in the spirit of building our own family traditions, I think we can make Christmas anything we want it to be. And if that includes thanking God for sending his Son to us and celebrating such humble yet powerful beginnings, then why not. Some parents buy a nativity set and have their young children reenact the historical event. Others place the nativity scene under the Christmas tree and have the baby Jesus figurine come just a little closer to the manger every day. We haven’t decided what we’d do for Arddun yet, but teaching her about the birth of Christ (and that He wasn’t Anglo-Saxon, contrary to all the nativity scenes in shopping malls!) could be a part of what we do. All the hoopla about it not being the actual date that Jesus was born can come much later.
  4. Christmas tree up on 1 December
    Yeah, that one bombed last year. Better luck this year.
  5. Gingerbread house baking together
    See above regarding Tardis. Down, but perhaps not out yet.
  6. A Christmas Book a night for advent
    I like this one, as it turns a regular part of Arddun’s bedtime routine into something a little more special. I can’t remember where I first saw this suggestion, but Kate did one better and individually wrapped her 12 Christmas books so her children could enjoy the simple pleasure of ripping into a mini-gift each night before Christmas. Will be doing this one with Arddun when she gets older, methinks.
  7. Loose change for charity at the end of the year
    There are a few ideas buzzing around my head regarding our little family and the charities we support. One idea I’ve read recently was to keep a large jar somewhere central in the house where family members could empty loose change over the course of the year, and then have a family conference at the end to use the loose change to support a charity or an individual we know in need.
  8. Christmas Eve board games
    I looooove board games. I hope Arddun does too. Better yet, if we can have another child, then we’ll finally have the numbers for Mahjong. I’m just thinking aloud here.
  9. Christmas Eve movie
    Someone window-shopping at JB Hifi recently asked me if I could recommend a good Christmas movie. Apparently, it was tradition in her family to pick out a movie about Christmas and watch it on Christmas Eve. I suggested Joyeux Noel but they had already done that one.
  10. Christmas family photo
    Cheesy. But necessary. Especially if you’re going to dress up the kid.
  11. Service
    I’d like service for another to become an important part of our Christmas holidays, so apart from flinging money in the general direction of the needy (see No.7 above), I like the idea of bestowing the gift of time. Perhaps something like volunteering our skills to wrap Christmas presents at a shopping mall where proceeds go to a charity. (Because soup kitchens, as we found out, are actually getting difficult to volunteer for.) Still refining this one, but the basic idea is that Christmas should always be about giving, and it’s something we want to teach Arddun through practice.
  12. Scavenger Hunt
    I used to create GREAT scavenger hunts when I was in my teens and had waaay more energy to think up abstract clues in rhyme. Time to dust out this life skill in a few years’ time and get the scavenger hunt going on Christmas Day! This will, of course, involve quite a bit of plotting beforehand, and on-the-spot guidance on the day.

What Christmas traditions do you have? What did you do last year? Can I steal some more ideas?

Better late than never, they say

We’ve FINALLY put up our Christmas tree. It’s 6 days before Christmas. I think we’re doing pretty well. :D

Arddun opens the Christmas Tree box
“What is this box of furry green stuff?”

Arddun surveys the finished Christmas tree Arddun standing in front of Christmas tree

Arddun walks off with empty Christmas tree box
“Okay, tree’s up. Decorations on. My work here is done.”

 

Heralding the year of the bunny

Every year, we host a Chinese New Year shindig at our place. It’s usually stinkin’ hot – and this year was no different – but I couldn’t resist getting everyone to TRY and come in theme: bunny slippers.

Anyhoo… here’s our costume.

Bunny Slippers
Nothing says Happy New Year like Monty Python killer rabbits with big pointy teeth. Blob has slippers, too.

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