Easter was a very big deal in the McGuire household, back in the day when the local Woolworth’s actually sold live baby chicks in the store window. PETA obviously didn’t know about that store in Ardmore where the chicks were dyed like easter eggs — pink, blue, yellow. Looking back, yes, it was pretty dreadful; but to a flock of kids denied candy and TV all through Lent, the promise of holding one of those cute little furry things was irresistible. We’d bring them home in a shoebox — 7, one for each of us, our family being a typically large Catholic gang — along with many heartfelt promises to raise them well. Or, at least until they got out of the box in the basement and died behind the oil burner.
While Dad was fruitlessly trying to free the wayward chicks from their fate in the basement, Mom would spread the dining room table with newspapers for our annual ritual of coloring hardboiled eggs for the Easter baskets. The ensuing fights and mess were only slightly less lethal than the oil burner’s effect on the chicks.
But, lo and behold, on Easter morning we arose to beautiful baskets chock full of coconut eggs and jellybeans and small little gifts that seemed to make the deprivation of those long Lenten weeks worth it. In the small brains of children under 8, the ritual counting of jelly beans (and extraction of the dreaded licorice ones from the desired red ones) was a delightful rivalry connoting levels of success and deep meaning known only to the children and the Easter Bunny.
Rituals of deep meaning and long tradition pervade this sacred week for two major religious traditions. As Christians observe the Easter tradition, the Resurrection of Christ, our Jewish neighbors observe Passover. At a Seder dinner with Jewish friends the other night, I observed how similar our traditions are in their essence — the centrality of the ritual meal, which is the framework for the Catholic Mass, emerged from the Last Supper, which was, perhaps, a Seder meal for Jesus and his disciples. Each ritual includes psalms and prayers of remembrance, of struggle and oppression, of hope and freedom, of forms of resurrection and passage into new lives. Unleavened bread, the symbol of nourishment, is central to each meal. The Seder invests many other foods with great symbolism — the bitter herbs, the lamb shank, the maror. As I contemplated the hardboiled egg on the Seder plate, a symbol of life, I thought of all those years of coloring hardboiled eggs on our dining room table. The idea of the Easter egg is a universal symbol of life.
The Resurrection is the core Christian believe that separates us from our Jewish cousins, for whom the Messiah is yet to come. In this season, as each tradition celebrates its own beliefs, we also should acknowledge our common ancestry in the tradition of life and hope.