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Do you believe in Christ or the Easter Bunny?
April 4, 2010 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Is Easter a secular holiday now?

It seems many of my friends who are otherwise fairly non-religious are doing easter baskets and easter egg hunts and making really big easter dinners. I find that sort of... odd. Why have an elaborate feast for a holiday that you do not celebrate nor attend church on day-of? Granted, a lot of these people have kids so is it just a holiday for consumers? Another special opportunity to buy gifts and candy for your kids?

I mean, nothing's cuter than an easter egg hunt but what are they telling them about WHY they are hunting easter eggs. Frankly, I found the whole egg/bunny thing a little strange when I was growing up in a religious (Christian) household but, hey, free candy, right?

Do you celebrate Easter even though you are not religious? Do you have kids? What's the story?
posted by amanda to Religion & Philosophy (80 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm 25, I've only ever known Easter as a secular holiday. We didn't do the big Easter dinner (our big dinner for the spring was the Passover seder..., though we weren't really Jewish either), but we definitely did easter egg hunts and whatnot. I knew the story, I think, but I knew it as fiction, not as religion.
posted by brainmouse at 2:42 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rabbits and eggs.
posted by hermitosis at 2:43 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm not religious (but raised vaguely Christian) and I'm sure as heck not celebrating Easter in any capacity. I'm 23 with no kids; I can see why nonreligious parents might put together Easter baskets for small children.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:44 PM on April 4, 2010


My Facebook wall is filled with friends writing "He is risen", so my experience would say no. But YMMV.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:44 PM on April 4, 2010


I am 28. I grew up in a religiously atheist, vaguely culturally Jewish household. We celebrated Easter every year, egg hunts and Easter baskets and all. I never associated Easter with Jesus until I went to college and started hearing snarky zombie Jesus jokes.
posted by mollymayhem at 2:46 PM on April 4, 2010


I used to use it as an excuse to cook a nice dinner and invite friends over, but, since it isn't actually a holiday (people can't count on having the day off), it doesn't really work as a secular holiday. That's my opinion.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:48 PM on April 4, 2010


No Easter for us - one Jew, one nonreligious Christian in the house. I have never had an Easter basket, or celebrated Easter in any way.
posted by pinky at 2:48 PM on April 4, 2010


I was born to jewish parents, but am not religious in any meaningful way. When my kids were younger, we had an easter egg hunt and got them chocolate. Even had friends over for dinner. Why? The CHOCOLATE and the friends. Got to entertain little kids somehow. Can talk to them for a few days leading up to the egg hunt and then the egg hunt and then a few days afterwards of rehashing. They get chocolate and to make a mess. We have friends come over and drink wine. They bring their kids. What better way to kill a Sunday with three small kids?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:49 PM on April 4, 2010


Jesus was relaxed and groovy. So even though I'm not religious, I don't think he would mind if I gave my kid some chocolate at the same time everyone around us does, so she doesn't feel left out.
posted by wwartorff at 2:52 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


We had easter egg hunts and candy even though I was raised in a Jewish house.
posted by cyphill at 2:52 PM on April 4, 2010


I think Easter is pretty religious, actually. I don't feel social pressure to celebrate (as opposed to Christmas). I think your friends are just using it as an excuse to celebrate something.

There is actually an article on Slate this week about why it is not the most commercial Christian holiday.
posted by AtomicBee at 2:52 PM on April 4, 2010


Huh. I guess since I was raised with the ash forehead, palm sunday, resurrection story that it just seems like a major religious story. I have not "celebrated" Easter since I lived at home as I no longer consider myself religious. I do like chocolate eggs, though. I wonder if they're already on super sale!
posted by amanda at 2:53 PM on April 4, 2010


I celebrate Easter with my family, and it has always been an entirely secular holiday for us. When I was a kid, it was a good excuse for an Easter egg hunt, complete with cryptic written notes for us to read for clues about the location of the candy. Now that we're all adults, it's a good excuse to get together for dinner and carrot cake with chocolate eggs on it. We never needed any further rationale for it than that, either then or now.
posted by FishBike at 2:55 PM on April 4, 2010


Easter is named for a pagan goddess, held on the first sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, and celebrates the rebirth of the earth - spring and fertility (eggs, bunnies...). The fact that another religion attached their own "rebirth" theme to an ancient tradition doesn't mean the pagan version is forgotten. It was there first and remains popular for those who don't take the christian layer that seriously - everyone can relate to celebrating the seasonal shifts.

That said, I still see lots of christian celebrations of it - my neighborhood was full of palms last sunday, which is particular to the christian storyline.
posted by mdn at 2:56 PM on April 4, 2010 [25 favorites]


Re: Ash forehead-

Every Ash Wednesday I spend at least half the day trying to figure out why so many people have dirt on their faces.
posted by mollymayhem at 2:57 PM on April 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I was raised as an atheist, and we always celebrated Easter. First, it was an opportunity to eat lots of candy.

But more importantly, it's a celebration of Spring coming! [Just like the other Christian holidays are really repurposed pagan festivals.] Why would you not want to celebrate the coming of spring? It's the best season of the year.

And growing up, I always thought it was an interesting coincidence that the Christians thought their god was resurrected on such a neat holiday. I mean, what're the odds? It wasn't until high school that I realized people celebrate Easter because of Jesus.
posted by Netzapper at 2:59 PM on April 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Families that are otherwise non-religious are doing easter baskets and easter egg hunts".

What's religious about easter egg hunts? Presumably these are secular families, celebrating a secular festival. There's a whole bunch of secular celebrations that families and schools get kids involved with: Easter, May Day, Harvest Festival, Hallowe'en...

It's not the case that a celebration has to be either religious or consumerist.
posted by emilyw at 3:00 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Easter has been a secular holiday in my family for the 30-odd years I've been around. Egg hunts, baskets, candy, new fancy outfits, dinner out, the works. We were about as atheist a family as you can possibly get. I was actually pretty carefully sheltered from religion for many years; I think I was probably in junior high before I even realized that some other people considered Easter to have a religious aspect.

I don't celebrate Easter as a grown-up, but would do so in a purely secular way were I to have children.
posted by Stacey at 3:02 PM on April 4, 2010


eh, it's another holiday that borrows heavily from pagan traditions that are older than dirt. religious holidays are a way to gather with family/friends, especially ones that are held around the changing of the seasons. if you have a holiday that dominates the seasonal shelf in all the stores, the secularists are going to partake.
posted by nadawi at 3:02 PM on April 4, 2010


Huh. I guess since I was raised with the ash forehead, palm sunday, resurrection story that it just seems like a major religious story.

Me too, and I also find the secularization weird. Yesterday the checkout woman at my grocery store wished me a Happy Easter and I was pretty surprised, being that I live in a big city full of people who don't celebrate Easter and I wasn't buying anything Easter-related. I guess it's the new Christmas?

Every Ash Wednesday I spend at least half the day trying to figure out why so many people have dirt on their faces.

I loved Ash Wednesday when I was a kid. It's actually the only thing that makes me miss going to Mass.
posted by sallybrown at 3:04 PM on April 4, 2010


Easter is the only time I can find Cadbury creme eggs... so that's a good enough reason to celebrate for me...

just kidding.

When my kids were kids, we did have Easter egg hunts and baskets, just like we had Christmas trees and presents - they're all folk/pagan rituals that got hooked to a Christian holiday. But for me, the egg hunts & baskets / Christmas tree & presents are time honored traditions of celebrating the season rather than the Christian holiday that happens to fall around the same time. Not secular at all, but a different religion/ tradition.
posted by patheral at 3:05 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like Christmas, I would say Easter now has a "double life:"

Christians celebrate each as a religious day, and may think others are "doing it wrong" if they celebrate in a secular way.

However, both have now accumulated separate, secular tradition which means they can be celebrated without the person even being aware of the religious meaning. This was certainly the case in my atheist household. We had angels on the Christmas tree, but I wouldn't have known who Jesus was if he had walked in the door.

The flipside of Christianity being so embedded in American culture is that Christian holidays are celebrated with tv specials, closings, time off work and school, etc., to the point where they become holidays for everyone almost be default.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:05 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My parents (mother, mostly) made a half-assed attempt at raising us Christian as kids, but by the time I was 10 that had largely been given up. At this point we're all either atheist or just a-religious. But we still celebrate Christmas (and, as long as my brother and I lived near home, Easter) like it was our jobs.

Why? Because it's an excuse to make a ton of food and be with family and friends. Both Christmas and Easter are timed to coincide with traditionally pagan festivals for the winter solstice and spring equinox, which were also excuses to get together and celebrate. Everyone, regardless of belief or disbelief in a deity, loves an excuse for a party. Plus, everyone loves presents (Christmas!) as well as chocolate, sugar, and pretty eggs (Easter!). Religion is nice and all, but I think it's just kind of a means to an end for a lot of people, including me and my family.
posted by olinerd at 3:06 PM on April 4, 2010


I've celebrated Easter as a secular holiday for most of my life. I've never felt any need to justify it with a religious background, though. Eating chocolate is fun, as is hiding it for younger members of your family. Mostly, though, I'll use the off-work days to go abroad for a long weekend.
posted by radioedit at 3:06 PM on April 4, 2010


I was raised Christian, so the religious aspect of Easter was always emphasized but we also got baskets of candy, colored eggs and had a big dinner with extended family.

I'm no longer religious but when my daughter was little we did all the secular fun stuff. Now that she's out on her own we don't celebrate in any way. I spent the morning washing my car and shopping for groceries. I wouldn't have minded having some candy today (white chocolate, black jelly beans, Peeps, and a big honking Reese's peanut butter egg!) but need to leave the sugar alone for health reasons. Dammit.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:10 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do you find it odd that your fairly non-religeous friends are following fairly non-religeous traditions around the time you may also be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus? Personally I think its far more odd that Christians would follow those traditions - bunnies and eggs have nothing to do with Jesus.

Its really not all that unusual though - I'd be willing to bet way more people eat pancakes on "pancake day" (aka Shrove Tuesday) than give anything up for lent.
posted by missmagenta at 3:12 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


No, it's not a secular holiday. It's a holiday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am Jewish. I do not believe that JC was the messiah. Therefore, I do not celebrate Easter. It is a Christian holiday.
posted by amro at 3:13 PM on April 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I like Christmas, but there's something too inaccessible about Easter--I think the crucifixtion and rising is gory, whereas the birth of Jesus is something you can ignore as a non Christian and concentrate on Santa and presents. The Easter bunny stares weird and is kinda weird.
posted by anniecat at 3:20 PM on April 4, 2010


Is it really so difficult to understand how tricky it can be to raise a non-Christian child in such an overwhelmingly Christian-influenced popular culture without said child often feeling left out and sad? There's a whole market apparatus supporting major Christian holidays with TV specials, toys, costumes, special candy, etc. For really conservative people the commercialization of religious holidays is a bummer but when the market is working that hard to serve your observances, it's a testimony to your faith's power and majority status.

Also, few families are religiously homogenous anymore. My own family contains just about every Christian branch alongside Judaism, Buddhism, and straight-up atheism. As a Jewish kid I grew up getting Easter baskets alongside my Christian cousins because there's no way the adults would have handed out a bunch of candy to a room of little kids while leaving one out. The baskets were pretty and sweet and to this day I give easter treats to my friends because of those happy memories. Sometimes no one in the exchange has any religious faith whatsoever! For us, it's just a way of showing some kindness and affection to people you love.
posted by melissa may at 3:22 PM on April 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Atheist family. Always an Easter egg hunt in our house. Though we're Canadian so we actually hid loonies all over the house. Easter always meant twenty bucks for me. Woot!
posted by meerkatty at 3:25 PM on April 4, 2010


In New Zealand it's a four day weekend (five in some work places). Plus there are hot cross buns and easter eggs. Those are enough reasons to celebrate for me. We also get two days off for Christmas regardless of religion, having public holidays fall on religous days is a good way to make them celebration-worthy regardless of belief system.

But yeah, it's also a pagan holiday celebrating the change of seasons and I like the celebrate that too (in a totally secular way), even though it's changing to Autumn here and the fluffy chickens and baby rabbits look kind of silly. I adore Autumn in general and love having inappropriate icons for my seasonal celebrations (also: snow in December). I'm sure many christians disagree but the pagan background of these holidays means they hold a much richer meaning than just whatever jesus was supposedly doing.
posted by shelleycat at 3:26 PM on April 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, I find it odd because that was how I was raised. But, seriously, this thread has been mind-opening! Buying fancy Easter clothes but not wearing them to church? Why else would someone need a brand new floral dress if not to show up the Joneses at church?!

I know that there is the pagan celebration but that was always presented as my as some side-show, wackadoodle nonsense separate from Mr. Christ. I do think the man-sized bunny is scary. However, I can get behind a springtime celebration.

Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs, did your parents talk about springtime and rebirth and renewal or was there no special story?

I think I'm coming around to having a mondo springtime (Easter) celebration next year.
posted by amanda at 3:27 PM on April 4, 2010


My pagan forefathers in Poland were dying eggs long before they were Christians. As far as I'm concerned, Christianity bastardized my fertility festival.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 3:27 PM on April 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


I was baptised a Catholic, but other than having each of us kids take enough Catechism classes in order to make our First Holy Communion, my family was definitely non-practicing. Nevertheless, for the bulk of my grade-school years, Easter still meant having to get all dressed up in a fancy dress with scratchy undernetting and then sit around and wait until the rest of the adults were ready to go over to Aunt X's or Uncle Y's house for Easter dinner. Of course I couldn't have any fun, lest I muss my spiffy dress, and besides, I was feeling a bit queasy from eating chocolate eggs for breakfast.

I think I was about 10 years old the last time my family actively celebrated Easter, and that year instead of baskets of candy each of us kids received a stuffed animal plush toy from the Easter bunny. It surprises me today to see many local businesses closed on Easter Sunday (especially when they're open for limited hours on Christmas Day).
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:35 PM on April 4, 2010


No, it's not a secular holiday. It's a holiday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am Jewish. I do not believe that JC was the messiah. Therefore, I do not celebrate Easter. It is a Christian holiday.

The early christian church adopted the pagan roman calendar and revamped it a bit. There's no reason that the original pagan holidays can't still be celebrated. A proper christian should pay no attention to eggs and bunnies on easter, or to evergreens on christmas, as those are purely secular celebrations of the turning of the seasons.

The fact that the christian church was smart enough not to compete with the traditional holidays, but instead to attempt to usurp them, does not mean a modern atheist can't ignore the church's interpretations and just celebrate the secular meanings.
posted by mdn at 3:38 PM on April 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


It's entirely possible that those people who are celebrating the secular aspects are just thinking, "hey, any excuse for a party." Or...they wwere raised in a religion but just don't practice any more, but the instinct to whoop it up a little is more of a nostalgic thing ("we always went to Grandma's after church, I miss the big-meal-with-family part"). Or everyone is just looking for an excuse to celebrate a little because it's finally nice weather after the long winter (my friends had a barbecue on their roof today for just that reason. I know I picked up some chocolate eggs a couple days ago -- I was raised Catholic, but am not practicing and haven't for years. But...any excuse for chocolate.

I'm thinking a lot of it could either be "formerly religious and just want to be nostalgic" or "hell, any excuse for a party".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:43 PM on April 4, 2010


I do not view our celebration in our family as the secularization of Easter. It is not a secular holiday "Now". Holidays are social rituals which provide opportunities to reinforce socio-cultural values and to symbolically link individual practices to broader social meanings and patterns. These individual practices and their broader meanings both vary between various socio-cultural groups and by individuals.

I grew up as an atheist, and we did Easter egg painting and hunts for chocolate eggs.
Now, Easter is a very important holiday for me and my own family with children aged 11 and 9. I use Easter as an opportunity to reinforce the social values of social ties within the family and links to the ecosystem. This is a festival of Spring, where we celebrate by nodding to Pagan festivals of Spring, with Eggs as a potent fertility symbol with themes of regeneration. The primary heroine of Easter is Esther, which is our name for the Easter Bunny who has both human and rabbit form and is magical. She brings and hides the eggs.

Once you are old enough, as my older son is, to know that mom is the easter bunny, this is the time where you learn the importance of magic of the Easter bunny is a way of celebrating selfless but shared joy with others. Easter/Esther is a decidedly feminine holiday. This is the 'spirit' of Easter. Of coming together, cooking together, eating together, and enjoying an Easter egg hunt together, of taking a walk together outside and noticing the signs of spring. Our connections to eachother and the planet, through ritualized meanings. This is the meaning of Easter.

I also use this as a way to teach my older son how in our largely Christian dominant small community, that they are celebrating Christian Easter and how the Christian celebration was added syncretically on top of many other pagan festivals, and as a result many of these diverse meanings have been lost through Christian dominance. It is a way of acknowledging diversity and a way that we can celebrate together but with difference.

Hoppy Esther! (oh, and yes, I am a sociologist).
posted by kch at 3:43 PM on April 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


I remember a segment on the Daily Show, way back when Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert were still on the show, where they did a "Even Stephvens" bit around Christmas.

Carell (I believe), gave an impassioned, articulate speech about not being a Christian, why he is not a Christian, and therefore, why he will not celebrate Christmas.

Colbert's response (IIRC), "Buddy, I don't really believe any of that crap either. But that hasn't stopped me from taking the express train straight to Present Town!"

And hence, why all big religious holidays grow a big secular element, and why a lot of the devout develop a "Get off my holiday, Philistines!" attitude towards non-believers on these days.
posted by mreleganza at 3:44 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My family is atheist and we always celebrated the commercial aspects of it (Easter baskets, Easter eggs, etc.).

I remember trying to explain American Easter traditions to my Costa Rican Spanish teacher. "El conejo de la Resurrection viene a tu casa con los huevos de muchos colores..." She thought I was making it up.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:46 PM on April 4, 2010


I don't know how it works in the rest of the world, but where I am my college is closed from Good Friday until this coming Monday, the mechanic I tried to take my car to was closed on Good Friday, everyone I know who has a real job got Good Friday off, and I just tried to go into a Target store only to find out that they are closed for Easter Sunday.

Regardless of its origin, it's effect is indistinguishable from a secular holiday.
posted by 517 at 3:49 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs, did your parents talk about springtime and rebirth and renewal or was there no special story?

There was no special story in our house beyond "this is the time off year when the Easter bunny visits and hides chocolate eggs all over the house". I don't think we ever asked for more information, either.

This year was, I think, the first year we've ever had any discussion at the family get-together about the origins of the Easter holiday, both the Christian version and the pagan one.

Which is just as well, because it meant my nephew was old enough to know it was a joke when I claimed Easter celebrates when the Easter bunny killed the Emperor and saved Jesus from Darth Vader. The serious discussion followed on from that, and I mention it not to be silly here, but as an example of how non-reverential we are, I guess you could say, towards the whole thing.
posted by FishBike at 3:52 PM on April 4, 2010


My family didn't do Easter, but my school was secular and pretty well rooted in the local traditions: morris/maypole dancing on May Day, Easter egg decorating, making harvest displays and taking boxes of harvest goods to vulnerable people in the community. I think there were some Jesus stories at school, but all mixed up with fables of all kinds and improving stories about notable historical figures. I always thought of Easter/Harvest/Christmas as being related to the turning of the seasons, especially to farming which there was plenty of around where we lived. As a kid I thought of it as something older and more "local" than the Jesus stuff - not any kind of new age woo woo or secularisation of a religious festival.

Our egg decorating was done with actual eggs and paint of some kind, not commercial in any way. There was also a lot of making cardboard daffodils out of sections of egg box.
posted by emilyw at 3:58 PM on April 4, 2010


Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs, did your parents talk about springtime and rebirth and renewal or was there no special story?

My mom was a hard-core Atheist so we did not get easter baskets...

However, since I'm Agnostic, I did tell my kidlings about the traditions behind the eggs, special clothes, and baskets and how they connect with Spring, rebirth, and renewal... and even about how the Christians tied it all in with their religion. Same thing with Christmas/Yule.
posted by patheral at 4:03 PM on April 4, 2010


There's nothing particularly Christian about many of the aspects of Easter celebrations -- eggs, bunnies, chocolate, bonnets, lamb with mint jelly -- just as there's nothing particularly Christian about Santa and presents and mistletoe. I think of them as culturally Christian, but not theologically Christian. Easter, like Christmas, is celebrated very differently in Christian cultures around the world.

It's certainly a Christian holiday, but many of the ways it is celebrated are secular, and therefore likely to be celebrated outside of a specifically religious context. I'm not at all Christian, but I've dyed eggs as an adult, and enjoyed Easter candy. I think of them as being much more directly related to pagan rituals of spring than the resurrection of Jesus.

Now I'm curious: what story were you told that connected the Easter bunny to the resurrection? What was the explanation for how hunting Easter eggs was connected to the Christian conception of Easter?
posted by gingerbeer at 4:04 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems that Eddie Izzard's observations are pertinent right about now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:05 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


We went to egg hunts at community center and local grocery stores, but never did anything at home, when I was little. We also used to decorate hard boiled eggs and then eat them over the next week or so, just for fun (though thinking back, there' a possibility my mom just bought the egg decorating kits on post-easter sale and we decorated them then.) We are a family of secular jews and atheists.
posted by R a c h e l at 4:05 PM on April 4, 2010


Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs, did your parents talk about springtime and rebirth and renewal or was there no special story?

I grew up with a Jewish mom and a fairly Christian but nonpracticing Dad. We celebrated Easter in a mostly secular way, but were aware of the resurrection story--my mom never liked those bits, but the holiday was a big deal to my dad, so she grinned and beared it (likewise, Christmas). She was always careful to tell us that she didn't believe that Jesus was the messiah, etc. I didn't care for the religious aspects either way, but I loved the mythology--the Easter bunny, the eggs, the baskets--and felt similarly passionate about the for-kids aspects of Christmas. My dad died when I was 8, but my mom still sends me an Easter basket some years. I guess the holiday's been successfully secularized for us, since we definitely don't believe in the Jesus stuff, but hey, Easter baskets are awesome, and I'm not the type of person to ever turn down a peep.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:24 PM on April 4, 2010


I think Easter has always been a secular festival! It just happens to coincide with a very religious holiday.

All cultures seem to celebrate the changes of season with fall and spring (harvest. Plant and pick fruits! Yea!) being the most important. (Summer solstice gets a bit screwed, I guess, but who needs a party when they're already having a good time.).

I feel sorry for the people who think their religion prohibits their celebrating these wonders just because it coincides with some other religion's feast. Nothing against religion, but joy is good, and approved of (in some form) by all the gods (or someone in all sets of gods) that I've heard of. Let up on the bunnies and eat an egg.
posted by Some1 at 4:30 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do you celebrate Easter even though you are not religious? Do you have kids? What's the story?

Growing up, my non-religious family did easter baskets because we like candy. The joke in my family was that it was from the "Jewish Easter Bunny" because my mom was raised Jewish. There was never a story any more than a sort of "tooth fairy" story. When we were little the baskets showed up as sort of a surprise and when we got bigger [like too old for Santa] the baskets were just clearly from Mom. It never occurred to me that they'd need to come with a story any more than "we wear green on St Patrick's day" had to come with a story or "wear red and give out hearts on February 14th" did. They were just dopey American holidays to me, holidays that some people went to church for and others didn't.

So coming from a "never been to church" tradition, this didn't seem at all weird because all holidays were, at some level, equally pretty meaningless except some we got off from school. I am in favor generally of reclaiming holiday traditions however you feel like. I still sometimes put lilies in the house this time of year even though I'm only vaguely aware that they may be tied into the churchy version of the holiday. The church up the road had a bake sale this weekend and I bought a ton of delicious cupcakes for 50 cents each.

That said I sort of agree with amro, it's still a Christian holiday that some people usually nonreligious or lapsed Christian decide to celebrate secularly [see: Christmas, yeah I KNOW it's a national holiday]. I don't know many people who identify as members of other religions who care about Easter at all.
posted by jessamyn at 4:32 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now I'm curious: what story were you told that connected the Easter bunny to the resurrection? What was the explanation for how hunting Easter eggs was connected to the Christian conception of Easter?

Well, I recall that the eggs were symbolic -- resurrection = rebirth = renewal. Why we were hunting for them, I do not recall. Bunnies and chicks were also sort of birth symbols and a sign of the new life of springtime and were a renewal of God's love or some such thing. Honestly, at that age, it's hard to concentrate past the free candy. That's how they get you!!
posted by amanda at 4:41 PM on April 4, 2010


Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs, did your parents talk about springtime and rebirth and renewal or was there no special story?


No, spring was signified by baseball opening day. Seriously. Easter was chocolate and family get together. A chance for this jewish kid to see him cousins from New Jersey. The parents hung out and drank wine. As an adult, for our little kids, much the same.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:46 PM on April 4, 2010


Sentimental traditions and religious practice are not inherently incompatible. In Christianity, Christmas and Easter (not Good Friday) are feasts meant to be celebrated - both in church and otherwise.

Think of it like getting married in a church and having a wedding reception (which have plenty of Pagan traditions embedded therein.)
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 4:47 PM on April 4, 2010


My parents and I just had a screaming match, so it's definitely an average secular holiday around these parts. I grew up Catholic and remember going to church on Palm Sunday and all that, but the family aren't churchgoers much anymore, and I'm decidedly nonreligious.
posted by emelenjr at 5:06 PM on April 4, 2010


I'm 32, raised non-religious, always celebrated Easter. We always figured the pagans had had it first anyway, and there's certainly nothing particularly Christian-seeming about all the stuff people do in celebrating it (the stuff they do outside of church, at least).
posted by moss at 5:24 PM on April 4, 2010


Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs

This phrase made me think of David Sedaris piece Jesus Shaves [scroll down halfway].
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:48 PM on April 4, 2010


"Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs, did your parents talk about springtime and rebirth and renewal or was there no special story?"

What? No. Of course there was no special story. And at Thanksgiving, there was never any talk of pilgrims and native Americans either.

Easter has become a holiday for baskets and candy. It's what everybody else does, so even many Christians do it too. When I was a kid, my dad was a lay minister and even WE had easter baskets, egg hunts and chocolate bunnies.
posted by 2oh1 at 6:02 PM on April 4, 2010


Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs, did your parents talk about springtime and rebirth and renewal or was there no special story?

No story, except when my mother switch to chocolate sweets in a mug rather than Easter eggs, she told me it was because when my aunt had a cocoa farm in New Guinea that the chocolate used for Easter eggs came from the sweepings on the floor. However, she also told me that she brought me home (as a baby) when she found me in the gutter, and that the purple people eater was going to eat my eyeballs, so I'm not sure how true that was.

As an Australian parent now, we did do the Easter bunny thing in the early years because of the school and consumerism crap - you can't avoid it without your kids feeling that they're not "single ladies" - now, we just wait until the first shopping day after Easter and get three times the chocolate for the kids to gorge on at discounted prices. (The kids are post-secondary school).
posted by b33j at 6:13 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My Mom is sort of lackadaisically Quaker, and my dad is SERIOUS BUSINESS atheist, and we always had Easter baskets and egg hunts. And my dad would make hot cross buns, and we'd have lamb for dinner, and when the buns had risen enough to be baked my dad would sing "Christ the Bread Has Risen Today." Good Friday was when we dyed eggs. Just like Christmas, I knew that other people had a whole Jesus narrative that went along with it, but it simply wasn't relevant to us.
posted by KathrynT at 6:26 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm Jewish, and my family doesn't celebrate Easter - well, other than indulging in Cadbury Creme Eggs. : ) I've helped out at the Easter Egg Hunt that my Jaycee chapter runs but I've never participated in a hunt as a kid, nor did my parents ever make us Easter baskets, or take us to get pictures with the Easter Bunny or anything like that. It would have seemed wrong to me, just as it would if we put up a Christmas tree.
posted by SisterHavana at 6:30 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, we did the commercial version of Easter in a low key way - a little chocolate bunny and a small token gift - usually a book or a 45 record. (God, how old am I??!) The Jesus aspect didn't get a mention. The big deal of the holiday however, was getting together with my father's family (lots of same age cousins), getting semi-dressed up and having a big meal with lots of ethnic food and good times. That's easter to me - an occasion to get together with family and share food and togetherness. Having said that, we just did the Easter egg hunt this morning for my son and three neighbourhood boys. Too much chocolate - it reminded me of Halloween with all the candy. Need to re-think that next year. My son does know the story of the resurection, although he also knows his parents' position on it.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:39 PM on April 4, 2010


Those of you raised of the bunny and eggs, did your parents talk about springtime and rebirth and renewal or was there no special story?

Uh huh. I was raised by lazy protestants and was a born atheist with a lifelong interest in meaning and myth, so I asked these kinds of questions from the start. My folks were as transparent about it as they knew how to be, though they weren't aware of the details of the pagan history. We did the egg hunt and sometimes church, but not every year. So, they knew that eggs = birth/rebirth/something... and bunnies = fertility... but they didn't know what that had to do with Jesus, and they pretty much said so. I guess just sort of "party time, Jesus is back, life is good, yay fuckin' hosannah!" was the assumption. It wasn't very mysterious and it definitely didn't stick much. I think all Easter observation was dropped by the time the youngest child turned 9 or so.

So, I dunno if that makes it a decidedly non-secular holiday, but it's only ever been celebrated with religious people in my family, as is Christmas, though atheists celebrate together with believers. Does that make sense? It's lazy protestants with a nice, Christian big-tent share-alike attitude in my fam. They don't trip that I don't buy it.

I actually got a bunny once, which was rad.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:41 PM on April 4, 2010


I was raised by devoutly atheist parents. We always celebrated Easter, but I didn't realize it was a religious holiday until I was 18. My mother used it as an opportunity to get us a new set of clothes, but never fancy clothes. Just an outfit for spring. And chocolate. And a big dinner for the whole family.

I really don't understand why Christians think it's okay to celebrate Easter with eggs and bunnies and chocolate, frankly. Doesn't it seem odd to be cavorting around the yard looking for eggs while Jesus is in hell for your sins? You'd think it would be a more solemn experience.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:18 PM on April 4, 2010


I mean, nothing's cuter than an easter egg hunt but what are they telling them about WHY they are hunting easter eggs.

There's no why, really, at least for my kids (we're not Christian, but they go to a good friend's house for an Easter egg hunt). It's a game; they love games; we play all kinds of games, all the time.

I suppose if we wanted to, we could attach some story to it, but really, they don't question candy in colorful plastic eggs hidden all over the yard. Seems like a perfectly natural way to spend a Sunday morning, to them.
posted by palliser at 7:25 PM on April 4, 2010


I wasn't told *anything* about Easter as a kid. It just... was. You woke up and there was a treasure map that led from egg to egg to egg to basket. You got a new dress and a shiny pair of shoes and you went to someone's house for dinner and the grownups cooked awful things to try to use up all the hard boiled eggs. Asking why a giant rabbit brings eggs is like asking why we have burgers for lunch but not breakfast. It's just the way things are.

(In fact, one Easter morning, my neighbor's apartment was being robbed, so I ran out to thank the Easter bunny rattling at the door and accidentally chased the robbers off. "Wait, Easter bunny! I got you carrots!" So I believed in Easter way beyond Santa. I had the tool marks on my neighbor's door to prove it.)

With my kid, there was always a trail of eggs, then a basket, even when we were on a trip to Japan (which made packing... odd). We have her Jewish best friend over for egg hunts quite a bit. We've never connected it to Jesus, but have talked about all the animals being born in Spring. Once she found out about Santa, she seemed to get that it was not real, so now it's a more casual, "Here's your basket. Let's make a bunny cake."

Black and white belief systems are boring. The best thing about being an agnostic is being able to grab whatever you like as an anthropological study. Traditions are more awesome than religions to me, so why not?
posted by Gucky at 7:30 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


My family is not religious, and we celebrate Easter only to the extent of having my grandmother over for dinner, since that's a nice thing to do every once in a while. When my siblings and I were much younger, we had the occasional Easter egg hunt. For us, there was no religious significance to all this; rather, it was just another fun tradition we did because everyone else we knew did it (though they celebrated Easter for religious reasons and also attended church on that day).
posted by datarose at 7:58 PM on April 4, 2010


I am deeply annoyed with the characterization (with an attitude of "duh") that Easter is a "christian" holiday. It's not. It's a pagan spring celebration that was co-opted by the christians, as others here have said. Nothing at all wrong with continuing with it as a normal pagan celebration. Festivus for the Rest of Us, in a sense.
posted by agregoli at 8:12 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Adding to what agregoli said: "I am deeply annoyed with the characterization (with an attitude of "duh") that Easter is a "christian" holiday. It's not. It's a pagan spring celebration that was co-opted by the christians"

It's also worth noting that, regardless of whether you believe Jesus was the son of god or just a man, he was born in the spring. But Christmas is celebrated on December 25th because........? Again, see agregoli's comment above. The December 25th holiday began as a celebration of the winter solstice. Roman emperors outlawed it. And when that failed to squelch the holiday, they co-opted it as Christmas. Even today, many of the pagan traditions of the original holiday live on. Jesus never had a wink-wink Christmas Tree.

I don't point any of this out to be rude or crude. Easter is a fine holiday and I celebrate it too, even though I'm so atheist I don't even believe in being an atheist.

And that brings me to Gucky's comment: "Asking why a giant rabbit brings eggs is like asking why we have burgers for lunch but not breakfast. It's just the way things are."

Indeed. It's just the way things are. Your parents probably got easter baskets with eggs and candy when they were kids. They gave easter baskets with candy and eggs to you when you were a kid, and you know this as "the way things are", so you'll give your kids easter baskets with candy and eggs too. It's what we do in this culture. Most people don't even question the why. Most don't even think about it.

How much thought does the average person give to Halloween? Or Valentines Day? Imagine trying to explain Halloween to someone who had never even heard of it before. But we don't do that. We partake in these holidays as they've been passed on to us. That's why I eat the ears off of a chocolate rabbit to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead in a totally non-zombielike way, right? Exactly.

(I always eat the ears first, that way the poor chocolate bunny can't hear himself scream. They again, if I were truly kind, I'd poke out his eyes first so he wouldn't see the rest coming. Chocolate bunnies! Nom nom nom!)

Personally I don't think it matters how other people celebrate Easter. Celebrate the holiday according to what's in your own heart and the rest of us will do the same.

Happy Easter!
posted by 2oh1 at 8:59 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My family has always celebrated Easter in much the same way we've always celebrated Christmas, both despite being a non-religious family -- it's not that our house was actively agnostic or atheist, that would have required giving the question of religion more thought than we ever really did.

Both of my parents came from not particularly devout but certainly Christian backgrounds, so it wasn't like they were just clueless or anything. We knew that there are religious underpinnings for those holidays, but we celebrate them purely from a cultural rather than religious perspective -- Christmas stockings, Easter Baskets, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. It's all the same deal, really. Turkey on both days, usually, too, though sometimes ham on Easter instead.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:04 PM on April 4, 2010


Us atheists like to celebrate too and some of us really like chocolate. In AU, it's a 4-day weekend so it makes sense to do something this weekend - the last 5 years or so our waterski club has used it as an excuse for a huge party.

As kids, we were aware of the xtian story but it wasn't important to us.

PS: rabbits are considered plague pests here, so the best choc manufacturer (Haighs!) sells Easter Bilbys instead. omnomnomnom, I have an ear left here somewhere...
posted by polyglot at 9:32 PM on April 4, 2010


It's also worth noting that, regardless of whether you believe Jesus was the son of god or just a man, he was born in the spring.

A quick FYI:

There's no actual evidence of that. You'll notice that the Christian Easter is the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, not his birth. The reason why it's believed that he was born in the spring is because medieval theologians believed that such a perfect man surely lived for a perfect number of days, thus he must have died on (or near?) the same calendar day he was born. There's some weird math involved that I can't remember the details of.

Keep in mind that outside of some religious documents created at least decades and in most cases centuries after Jesus is purported to have died, there is no confirming historical evidence of his birth, life, or death. Not saying he didn't exist, just that there's no actual evidence that he did.

So we don't have any way to really tell when he was born. And Christian Easter celebrations are not actually commemorating confirmable historical events that should be obvious to non-Christians. Easter seems to exist concurrently with Christian beliefs, as detailed above.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:42 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doesn't it seem odd to be cavorting around the yard looking for eggs while Jesus is in hell for your sins?

I was raised very Catholic. There's no cavorting while he's in hell, Good Friday and Easter Saturday are pretty solemn. Then there's the Easter Vigil mass (Saturday night, has often moved to Saturday evening now, not sure why) which is when he resurrects back, and then it's all crazy celebrating all day Sunday because he's back. Sunday is when you do all the egg hunts and dinner with family, etc.

In Australia it's a long weekend so everyone takes advantage of that. I was actually super surprised when I first moved to the States and found that everything was still open on Good Friday. I find it quite possible to be unaware that it is Easter weekend at all here. Although last year we painted eggs, because it's fun.
posted by jacalata at 9:45 PM on April 4, 2010


I can't believe the thread has gotten this far without anyone mention the actual original Easter Goddess, Ēostre.

The goddess of fertility (hence the eggs and rabbits, for obvious reasons) and her holiday were co-opted by the church about 1100 years ago for their own nefarious purposes. So hie thee hence with your "Easter is for Christians", sirrah.
posted by Aquaman at 10:59 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm in France where the Monday after Easter Sunday is an honest-to-god federal holiday. In the east of France and in Germany, Friday was also a holiday.

Last night when asked by a perplexed French guy why we celebrate with rabbits, I admitted not knowing but told him my best guess was that it was a reminder to go forth and multiply.

Also, free candy! But this weekend everything has been really dead quiet here.
posted by whatzit at 12:38 AM on April 5, 2010


[ few comments removed - this is not open season on "you know what is annoying about you people" comments loosely tied to easter. If you're not addressing the OPs question, please email them or the other posters. thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:15 AM on April 5, 2010


Thanks all -- I found the comments about growing up in a non-religious household especially illuminating.

I've been sorting though, over the years, my own feelings about religion and how it works in concert with everyday life. To be fair, Christmas as a holiday also makes me tense. I was pretty disgusted last year about the stories in the paper on parents who were hard on their luck feeling like total failures because they couldn't afford gifts for their kids. This was typically in the context of a non-profit that was gathering toys or money for needy families. The premise of that is so screwed up, though. No one should feel like a failure because they can't buy a cheap, plastic toy for their kid. I'm turned off by the religion and the culture that creates that kind of atmosphere.

I can see that Easter can be much more low-key and, while I'm not well-versed in pagan rituals through the centuries, perhaps I'll consider adopting these as my own.

Anyway, I'm glad that there is a place like Mefi where I can get good, thoughtful answers to questions of politics, religion and sex that are otherwise considered a no-no in polite conversation!

Off to get half-price Cadbury....
posted by amanda at 7:32 AM on April 5, 2010


I just want to re-emphasize the fact that I don't think you're going to find an observant Jew or Muslim (or anything but Christian, for that matter) who is ever going to say that Easter is a secular holiday, pagan rituals or not.
posted by amro at 8:03 AM on April 5, 2010


I can't believe the thread has gotten this far without anyone mention the actual original Easter Goddess, Ēostre.

She was referenced. This is a pretty busy thread, and it's clear people have all different kinds of concepts of what Easter means, but it also seems pretty evident there are a lot of non-theistic sorts who appreciate the pagan roots of these holidays.

I just want to re-emphasize the fact that I don't think you're going to find an observant Jew or Muslim (or anything but Christian, for that matter) who is ever going to say that Easter is a secular holiday, pagan rituals or not.

well, the world isn't just jews, muslims and christians. My family has been atheistic for at least three generations. I am a native new yorker, so maybe I can claim to be half cultural jew by osmosis or something, but basically, I am nothing. I am not christian, though. I hadn't met a real christian or gone into a church for any reason except architecture/art until being sent away to a school in new england in my teens. And that was a culture shock.

we still did eggs/bunnies, and trees for christmas. My jewish stepmom even referred to the xmas tree as the hanukkah bush. It was all low-key and non-religious. So, sure, among observant, religious jews and muslims, there may be no interest in pagan roots. But among non-observant, non-religious people looking for some fun holidays, there are plenty of us who can ditch the christian stuff and get back to basics.
posted by mdn at 9:46 AM on April 5, 2010


well, the world isn't just jews, muslims and christians.

I never said that. And for the record, I'm an atheist/cultural Jew.

So, sure, among observant, religious jews and muslims, there may be no interest in pagan roots.

That's all I was saying.
posted by amro at 10:04 AM on April 5, 2010


it was this:
(or anything but Christian, for that matter)
that made me feel a need to respond. But perhaps it wasn't really necessary :)
posted by mdn at 10:34 AM on April 5, 2010


It's a holiday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Don't believe it happened, and a spring theme for April makes no sense in the southern hemisphere. Still celebrate Easter, with chocolate rabbits and eggs and even hot cross buns and fish on Friday.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:40 AM on April 6, 2010


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