things cadbury never taught me about
April 7, 2009 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Advise-an-alien-filter: Easter version

I've been invited for Easter dinner or late afternoon coffee (or something) at the house of (not immediate) family that I am just beginning beginning to reconnect with. I know what Easter commemorates, I know about bunnies and eggs and baskets--but I'm not Catholic (or Christian), and don't know what the protocol of the day is.

I'll be confronted with some awkwardness of meeting relatives that I hardly know (but would like to), and a holiday I don't know much about - so I'm a little worried. What do I wear? What should I bring? What should I *not* bring? Would should I expect if I attend Easter dinner with them? Are there foods that are traditional "Easter dinner" foods? Would it be weird if I go later in the day, for coffee? (They invited me for either)? What should I do to be respectful? What other random Easter advice do you have for me?

Thank you for all help in advance!!
posted by raztaj to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
--You might want to dress up a little (don't go crazy, but don't go in a t-shirt, jeans, hoodie and sneakers if you're over the age of 22-- khakis or cords with a sweater or blouse/button down should be fine) so you're not self-conscious if this is one of those families that gets a little cleaned up for holiday meals.

--Ask your host what you can bring-- only because it might be one of those situations where they'll have so much on hand they don't want guests bringing anything at all. Otherwise, a dessert or sweet bread is always a good option (a banana bread or cookies can always be thrown in the pantry for later as a de facto hostess gift, if they can't use them).

--If they explicitly said, come for coffee or dinner, why not show up for coffee and then excuse yourself afterwards if it's awkward (you can get a conveniently timed call), or stay for dinner if it's going well?

--Don't worry about not knowing about the holiday-- unless their evangelicals, they won't be chit-chatting about the risen Christ.
posted by availablelight at 6:51 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Easter, perhaps because it's less commercialized and more religious (and thus more private), is less homogeneous in its celebrations than Thanksgiving or Christmas. Lots of the foods and traditions of Easter vary by ethnicity and religion. For example, lamb and mint jelly is pretty traditional for Irish and English people, but my Italian family has never ever had it. (This year we're doing lamb kabobs, but that's not really traditional). We always always have deviled eggs, which is a pretty good use of all those hard boiled Easter eggs, so I think that's pretty common. All that is to say that I don't think there's much of anything you'd be expected to know that will trip you up. Wear something nice and not too somber (floral dresses are common for women, suits with bright colored shirts and/or ties for men are common) since it is a joyful occasion. Going for coffee would be fine. If they say grace at the meal, bow your head (you don't have to join in if you don't want to). You could bring Easter candy for the kids, if there are any, or wine if you know they're likely to drink it (Catholic yes, Southern Baptist no).
But basically, it's a joyful occasion in the religious calendar and a joyful occasion because you're reconnecting with family. Go and be happy. Eat the springtime foods - there may be ham, lamb, asparagus, artichokes, or any number of other delicious celebrations of the fact that it's spring. Or join them for coffee later, if that's what you prefer. Dress like it's spring and a celebration. Have fun!
posted by katemonster at 6:56 AM on April 7, 2009

Just a note, depending on where you are living, Easter dinner can mean essentially lunch time. There are no traditional Easter foods. At best, expect a prayer or "thanks" before the meal begin, said by one person, while everyone else holds hands or simply bows their head, that would refer to Christ's resurrection. Most religious celebration surrounding Easter is handled at church, leaving the strictly non-religious celebration of hunting easter eggs to either before or after. Dress nice like Availablelight, suggested. If the family went to Easter services earlier that day, they may well still be wearing their church clothes.

Essentially, treat it as you would when you meet family relatives for the first time. As stated, dress nice, be polite and courteous, and simply have a nice relaxed time.
posted by Atreides at 6:57 AM on April 7, 2009

This will probably vary a lot between christian denominations, countries and families. I'm used to Easter in a British Anglican family.

Easter is generally regarded as the most important day in the Church calendar, but all the religious stuff is taken care of in the church services during Lent and on Easter morning itself before the meal. Someone will probably say grace before the meal (just bow your head respectfully and wait for it to finish if you're not able or willing to join in) but there isn't any ritual or special significance to parts in the meal. It's a lot like a Christmas dinner - it's a feast day, an excuse for the family to get together and have fun on the most important day of the year.

Like Christmas, I'd expect people to dress fairly smartly - probably not suits, but a nice shirt/blouse, maybe with a tie.

I'm not aware of any traditional Easter foods, but this might be different for Catholics and in the USA. If you want to bring something, I agree with availablelight that it'd be best to phone and say "I'd love to bring something, is there anything particular you want?", or to take something that doesn't have to be used that day; I'd expect that quite a bit of planning is going into the meal, so it's best not to throw a spanner in the works be turning up with perishable foodstuffs!
posted by metaBugs at 7:04 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Easter protocol varies widely by family. For mine, it's just a time when we are sure to all get together. Some acknowledgement of the resurrection, as it's been two years since my father passed away (this part makes me super uncomfortable, but it's cool, and I'd say that's probably atypical).

My family's Presbyterian, with some lapsed Catholics married in and some atheists trying to lay low. For Easter, we tend to dress up a little bit: I will wear pants I would wear to work and a nice spring-y top. We usually have ham, but that's just us: we also always go out to eat at this Mexican restaurant the night before, so katemonster's right on the money with traditions varying.

For us, the religious part of Easter happens at church that morning, and then the afternoon is just a regular family get-together, slightly Eastered up with some flowers or colored eggs on the table.

Plan on dressing more nicely than jeans and a T shirt, and just ask them what they typically wear and offer to bring whatever you would normally offer to bring to dinner or coffee: a bottle of wine (if you know they drink), a dessert, whatever you are comfortable with. If they insist no food is necessary, maybe bring some flowers. No making jokes at the expense of Christianity (duh), and enjoy reconnecting with that part of your family!
posted by teragram at 7:05 AM on April 7, 2009

I come from a German and Catholic family (living in Louisville, KY), and we have lamb every year. Also, bourbon (but that's year-round in these parts).
posted by ConstantineXVI at 7:09 AM on April 7, 2009

Thanks for the advice all! And the personal stores on variation are great to hear as well.

Yes, Atreides I've been told that dinner will be around noon. I'm not opposed to going to dinner, but somehow "coffee" sounds safer - though from the likes of it, I think I may be making Easter dinner to be something more different than it really is.

I'm trying to figure out what the polite thing to do would be - without saying so, they seem attuned that this meeting may be a little weird for me, hence offering the option of afternoon dinner or coffee, later. I appreciate their sensitivity, and just want to do what they'd like, without them having to go out of their way.
posted by raztaj at 7:21 AM on April 7, 2009

I've been doing the whole Easter thing my whole life. It depends on what religion your family is. I'm Byzantine Catholic so our Easter is a little out there compared to the rest. I'll try and help you the best I can.

Dress - There is not any goofy requirements here. Just wear something comfortable that looks like you care and want to make a nice impression. Slacks and a dress shirt will do fine.

Food - The mainstay of Easter (for my religion) is either Easter Bread or Nut/Poppy Seed/Apricot roll. If you want to bring something I would take either the Nut or Apricot roll. Who doesn't love those? As for the dinner you can expect a meat (Ham, Lamb, Duck, Kielbasa, etc.), something with hard boiled eggs, most likely deviled eggs, normal run of the mill sides, Easter cheese (very traditional), chocolate, breads listed above, etc. Nothing really too over the top. However again if they are Byzantine Catholic >:>( like my family we have strange Ukrainian traditions.... trust me Strange! One is the "Cold" Easter Basket*. What is this you might ask? Well since everyone back in the old country (full of peasants and gypsies BTW) would cook everything on Saturday and have their food for Easter blessed by the priest. Not a bad tradition for it's time because things took forever and a day to cook and being Easter (the resurrection of Jesus Christ) all the women shouldn't be expected to cook in the kitchen for several hours (this feast day is spiritually more important that Christmas). Back to how this tradition effects my family EVERY YEAR.... My mother and grandmother, defying bitching and moaning from the whole family, do this every single year on Easter. In 2009 mankind has made 100s of improvements on cooking methods. Every year we say... "Please can we have a "HOT" Easter dinner like normal people?!?" And every year we heard "No! This is how they do it in Ukraine." Side note: They DON"T, we checked!

Mood - Nothing is too overly religious. It is a normal big family get together. Talk about the game, your family, etc. The only thing really religious you will come across in a Catholic family is the phrase "Christ has Risen!" In which other Catholics will say either "Indeed he has risen" or "Glorify Him." Do not worry about this. If you are not religious just say Happy Easter. If someone says something religious to you then it is a dick move on their part.

In the end go there, hang out, have fun, and if it gets awkward just say you told a friend you would be stopping by.

* The traditional Easter Basket contains: Ham, Kielbasa, homemade Easter cheese, Homemade Easter breads, hard boiled kiddy colored eggs, chocolate, homemade Easter butter (stuff is awesome), whatever else you plan on eating on Easter. This is where the whole idea for an Easter Basket came from. How they put a bunny in the mix is beyond me.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:30 AM on April 7, 2009

It sounds like they are trying to be as sensitive to your unfamiliarity as you are to their traditions, so I suspect everything will go fine. Other than that, everyone has great advice, and it really will vary as to how religious and traditional they are.

I also just have to chime in with what my grandmother's priest included in his Easter sermon one year:

Easter: Never say die.
posted by Pax at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2009

Where I live, in Texas/US South, spiral sliced ham is a traditional Easter food. Deviled eggs are also traditional, and chocolates and candy for kids. We never have lamb (I have never even eaten lamb in my life), but I don't think lamb is a eaten very commonly in Texas in general.
posted by fructose at 7:51 AM on April 7, 2009

You could, of course, simply tell your hosts that you are unfamiliar with Easter and its associated rituals. My experience is that people are usually very happy to explain their local customs to visitors, if interest is shown. The novelty factor can often make an otherwise potentially boringly familiar routine (for them) seem a bit more special. It will also mean that any faux pas can be attributed to your inexperience and lightly laughed off.

Of course, as has already been said, what you can expect in terms of rituals varies widely depending on the religion/age/ethnicity of the people involved. As a non-churchgoing, nominal Anglican with an Romanian Orthodox partner and a young daughter, if you were to turn up at my door with either painted or chocolate eggs and a willingness to have a go at saying "Cristos a Inviat!", you would be more than welcome. And you would get lamb.
posted by oclipa at 7:54 AM on April 7, 2009

Nthing that it's essentially a big family dinner akin to Thanksgiving, but usually a little more casual. In the mid-Atlantic, both my Catholic and Protestant relatives served ham and turkey. (Or just ham, if fewer people were expected.)

Dress nice but not fancy -- no jeans.

Bringing chocolates or something would be nice. (I brought a box of my favorite buttercreams from a local candy maker to Easter when I met my SOs entire family for the first time. Highly recommended as a gift -- gave them something to chit-chat with me about to break the ice, and let me do something nice that was stress-free for me.)
posted by desuetude at 8:05 AM on April 7, 2009

My New England Catholic family used to eat ham on Easter. And jelly beans.

People might change after church, fyi.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:07 AM on April 7, 2009

My family is not particularly religious and does not attend church, but does celebrate traditional Christian holidays like Easter. So with that in mind, "Easter dinner" is more like late lunch, usually 1-2pm. Everyone dresses casually (my siblings and I all in our 20s and early 30s still wear our jeans and t-shirts and hoodies to family events) and we have a casual family dinner. No one says grace at ours, but I nth the recommendation to simply bow your head and sit quietly if someone does at your family's dinner. We usually have ham or roast beef, potatoes, deviled eggs, veggies, finger foods to snack on until dinner's ready, and a light cake for dessert. The whole event is mostly an excuse to go see the grandparents. YMMV.
posted by asciident at 8:14 AM on April 7, 2009

Flowers or a plant would be a good failsafe gift to bring.
posted by corey flood at 8:19 AM on April 7, 2009

In my family (Southern US, evangelical Christians), Easter dinner was held after church on Easter Sunday, and was a holiday meal attended by family and often other friends or church members who did not have a family meal of their own to attend. Traditional menu was glazed ham, green beans, potato and/or pasta salad, deviled eggs, fruit salad, macaroni and cheese or scalloped potatoes, and rolls. There was generally some sort of fruity dessert - the kids got their Easter candy in the mornings. We usually wore our church clothes until after the traditional Easter family picture, taken "while everyone looks so nice," and then put on play clothes afterwards.

We actually usually did have a little Easter religious activity where we discussed the Easter story, however we're the only family I know that did that; most people do the religious heavy lifting at church that morning and during the preceeding week (depending on denomination and individual observance, you might have any number of special services during Holy Week.)
posted by oblique red at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2009

There are no traditional Easter foods.

Lamb? Eggs? Also, for Catholics, they are gonna have some type of traditional food based on their forebears' origins. Note: this _may_ be nasty, especially if they are eastern european. If you luck out you'll get some bacala/bacalao from western or southern euros, but you might get stuck with some mystery slurry if they are e.g. Polish. Think beets + horseradish + ??? put in a blender. Anyway, for Catholics of any ethnic stripe, there are strongly traditional easter foods, I think more so than other holidays because Easter is the most serious holiday for Catholics and its a bit less secularized than e.g. Christmas.
posted by jeb at 9:28 AM on April 7, 2009

but you might get stuck with some mystery slurry if they are e.g. Polish. Think beets + horseradish + ??? put in a blender.

Poor cooks can make any food nasty. Please don't hurfdurf the Poles; we're sick of it. But we do always have lightly-pickled sliced cucumbers as a side dish at family gatherings, and used to do golabki at Easter, and makowiec for dessert with coffee. (We traditionally save the pierogies, kiebasa, and of course chrusciki for Christmas.)
posted by desuetude at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2009

Hey -- sorry to derail -- but desuetude, I am Polish. We may collectively be sick of being hurfdurfed, but I'm individually sick of our nasty holiday "specialities". For the record, I do love lightly-pickled sliced cucumbers and its the only Polish food I regularly make for myself, but like Śledzie w śmietanie? Even if you decide not to eat it, you still have to deal with the fact that it stinks up the whole area. I get that we had to eat this stuff in the Old Country due to How Rough Old Times Was, but come on isn't that why we came over here? Just like how some countries are good at building cars (Germany, Japan), some countries are good at spaceships (America, Russia), some are good at cooking, and others are not. Sadly, our origins lie in a country that never attained the culinary mastery of The Greats. But hey, we still have Chopin. It's not hurdurfery to point this out.
posted by jeb at 10:03 AM on April 7, 2009

Just to add another data point, I come from a culturally-Christian family that is basically not religious at all. We all really like Easter and usually it's a pretty happy day. We listen to a lot of great Easter music, and sing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" very loudly and raucously (it's a family of musicians). We do an egg hunt (very silly), and many of the members of the family enjoy getting crafty with different types of egg decoration. We often make "hot cross buns" (buns with a little cross made out of glaze), eat Easter bread (basically challah, but with a hard boiled egg sitting in the middle), and since us kids went vegetarian we whatever we feel like eating instead of some sort of traditional food. We typically go outside and find all the new little plants that are just coming up and admire them and maybe clear away some of the old dead leaves. If we're feeling serious we tend to think about how spring is a time for new beginnings, and if we're going all out, we might read the Easter story in our very secular sort of way and think about how inspiring it is.

I think we usually try to wear something that looks springy and nice, but not too fancy. It's definitely a joyful holiday full of crafts and tasty candies and friends. I don't know if it's like that for everyone, but if you were spending Easter at my house, I think there's almost no chance you'd make a "false move". It's just a fun time :)

If you want to bring something, I think it would be really cool if you could decorate an egg yourself. I'm sure the internet is overflowing with cool tips about how to do it.
posted by Cygnet at 11:11 AM on April 7, 2009

The only thing really religious you will come across in a Catholic family is the phrase "Christ has Risen!" In which other Catholics will say either "Indeed he has risen" or "Glorify Him."

Er, Irish Roman Catholic here, from a very religious family, and I've never heard of that. Must be specific to the Byzantine Catholic Church. The religious bit of Easter is generally Mass in the morning or the Easter Vigil the night before. We say Grace before the meal, but not much differently than we generally do. We do dress up for Mass.

"For example, lamb and mint jelly is pretty traditional for Irish and English people."
"Also, for Catholics, they are gonna have some type of traditional food based on their forebears' origins."

Similarly, my family's also very Irish, and we've never had lamb or mint jelly. I wouldn't know mint jelly if it hit me in the face. Generally we had a nice fancy family dinner, with a nice ham or some other sort of meat as the centerpiece. There are eggs every year, but only the ones the kids have boiled and dyed.

Mass is generally followed by the family looking for Easter baskets (including the adults.) Once the baskets are found (and everyone's eaten some of their chocolate), dinner starts. People may be a little dressed up from church, or they may have changed.

Basically: stop worrying so much, it's apt to be nothing but a nice family dinner, perhaps with one or two secular traditions tacked on. If you want to play it safe, just ask your hosts how the celebration usually goes: as you can see, traditions vary wildly family to family, and so they aren't apt to mind telling you at all. Go to coffee if their description makes it sound like you wouldn't like dinner, but otherwise, you might as well go for the meal.
posted by ubersturm at 1:24 PM on April 7, 2009

jeb: Some families enjoy torturing each other more than others, I guess. In mine, we tend to toss out the gross traditions and keep the tasty ones. Praise Chopin and pass the paczki.
posted by desuetude at 1:47 PM on April 7, 2009

Bring a nice bunch of spring flowers for the hostess and some chocolate for any kids and enjoy the occasion.

I'd go for the dinner as you can make conversation over dinner and chat to the people either side of you but don't have to talk much if you don't want to. By the time coffee comes round you will have either relaxed and be enjoying yourself or you can find an excuse to leave again. If you come after the meal you arrive once the party has split up into different smaller groups and end up having to mingle and make small talk over coffee.

As a reference point one year I found myself alone on xmas day and was invited to join my aunt's 2nd husband's ex wife's family for the day - I had met a number of people there (sharing a house with my step cousin at the time) and was fine for the duration of the meal but was glad to be able to leave again once they started to settle down to their normal xmas day afternoon activities.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:06 PM on April 7, 2009

I suppose you'd be best placed to know this, but it is entirely possible people are having an Easter event because it's a holiday, and not because of any stories of undead messiahs. My (non-religious) family would have Easter events, just because it's a long weekend.
posted by pompomtom at 4:38 PM on April 7, 2009

My family is Irish Catholic and fairly religious (my cousin is a priest, for ex.) The most religious bits of it were Palm Sunday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil midnight mass - Easter Sunday was basically just a party where the extended family got together for lunch. We might have had lamb, and there were Easter eggs everywhere, but it was more of a theme for the celebration than a focus. 'Christ has risen' would be going on, but at church, not around the table. It was really just a family get-together.

I was mildly shocked to learn that you Americans don't even have a public holiday for Good Friday. Pagan fakers, so much for being a christian country!
posted by jacalata at 7:58 PM on April 7, 2009

Random, but in my family it's somehow important:

If the butter is in the shape of a lamb, don't decapitate it until necessary. In other words, cut from the butt.
posted by sary at 2:45 PM on April 8, 2009

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