My most memorable Easters were spent in Greece when I was between 9 and 13 years old. It was the highest holiday, as it should be. It seems to me that resurrection is a much bigger deal than any of the other miracles. Americans tend to put Christmas at the center of our Christian calendar, but we all get born. It's the coming back from death that seems the more celebration-worthy feat!
Everyone carried candles home from church at midnight, a beautiful ceremony that filled the streets in candlelight, and used them to "burn" crosses over their front doors. What a miraculous thing, as a boy, to be entrusted with a candle to carry all the way home. And what a manly thing for dad to paint that cross in soot over our door. It was a powerful experience to walk under that cross for the next several weeks. We've never celebrated Easter at Woodland Park because we're a community of many faiths, but if we did, this is one of the things I'd want to try to recreate.
I never cease to be amazed at how many children express fear when I light candles at school, which we do at Halloween and for the occasional Pre-K science experiment, such as when we melt lead figurines. When did candles become dangerous? Of course, we need to be careful around fire, but that was what made carrying those candles home in the dark so miraculous, the fact that we, as children, were being entrusted with something as powerful as fire. It wouldn't have crossed our minds to be careless as we struggled to keep our flame alive, while avoiding the drops of hot wax that managed to elude the piece of cardboard protecting our fists. When dad showed us how to pass our fingers through our flames without burning them (quickly, smoothly, carefully) the experience of mastery was as complete as it gets.
We died eggs at Greek Easter, but the only color was red -- a deep red unattainable with our US dyes. The red represents the blood of Christ and it is indeed blood red. And so beautiful, but the only way to attain that is to cook your eggs in the dye for 10-15 minutes. If we celebrated Easter at school, this is the way I'd want to dye our eggs, just the way we cooked our most recent batch of playdough on an electric burner set on a table low enough that the kids could peer right down into the pot as it cooked. I would want them to experience that face-full of vinegar-y steam as we cooked up a batch of bloody eggs. I would want them to handle the hot eggs and to rub them with oil to make them lustrous.
For my brother and me the absolute highlight of Greek Easter were the egg fights. Everyone would choose an egg and then gently tap the tips together until one broke, the whole egg being the winner. The discovery of this game completely superseded any egg hunt. Sure, the loser was expected to eat their egg, but the competition was a blast. To this day the 14+ of us who celebrate Easter together engage in a sort of March Madness egg cracking tournament. My brother's oldest daughter Sarah was last year's champion and she remembers it. This ranks right up there with the annual Hobson family Christmas wrapping paper fight. If we celebrated Easter, we would definitely have egg fights.
Sure, the Greeks had plastic eggs that got filled with candy, all red, but the ones I remember most were ones that were designed for the tips to be fitted with little plastic "caps" that would explode when you played the egg fight game with them. Pow!
And we ate lamb in Greece. We were once guests at an Easter party at which several whole lambs were being roasted over huge pits of coals in an olive orchard, while we kids ran around them playing tag and hide-n-seek. The sight of those entire carcasses suspended on spits over fire was a bit grisly for us foreigners, but what a memory, and like everything cooked outdoors over fire, it smelled and tasted better than anything. Now that's the kind of Easter experience I'd love to be able to recreate with the Woodland Park kids!
When we returned to the US, our traditions seemed, frankly, lame to my brother and me: pastel-colored eggs dyed in tepid water, plastic eggs that didn't explode, no fire, no being out after midnight. We still get our egg competition, but we both know the experience is weaker than it could be.
I may have to separate these experiences from Easter, but I'm going to set myself the goal of seeing how many of these experiences we can recreate at Woodland Park during our week after the break. I'll let you know how it goes.