I've always wondered how Jesus' resurrection translated to an oversized rabbit handing out candy to children.
I mean, I'm not complaining. I think most mascots are hilarious and if they're struttin' around tossing fistfuls of goodies, who's really going to whine about it? Not this girl.
That said, as an Orthodox Christian, my Easters were always a little bit different. Sure, we still had hunts, dyed hardboiled eggs, got baskets of candy and wore fancy outfits—mine were always paired with gloves and ruffled socks. But we had a lot of other traditions, too.
I struggled as a child to describe what it means to be Orthodox. No one seemed to understand why unless American and Orthodox Easters aligned, as they did last year, we celebrate our holiday is on a different day. This year, it's April 15.
For the six in my family, celebrating the blessed holiday has always been serious business. You really had to prepare yourself for that day—a strict no-meat fast during lent, going to confession and attending every service you can possibly imagine. But trust me, it all paid off once it came time for a late-night celebration filled with traditional, homemade food and the good ol' satisfaction of stickin' to your guns.
On Good Friday, Jesus' tomb is annually recreated in our church using an icon that's surrounded by fresh, springtime flowers. Parishioners sign up on a sheet tacked to a cork board if they want to read psalms beside it throughout the night. And they do. Hour after hour, members of the church file in and out, making sure the tomb has company until the sun rises.
It always seemed like a secret mission to me. My dad and I would usually be the ones in our family to volunteer. We'd park in the desolate, gravel church lot and enter at a strange hour—perhaps 2:30 a.m.— only to be quietly greeted by those reading before us.
They would nod understandingly when they saw us peek our heads inside the narthex, finish their hymn and direct us in a whisper to the next Bible verse. Then they'd disappear, but not before handing us a single burning candle for reading light. I would know the smell of those mustard yellow, bees wax candles anywhere.
They're the same ones we use throughout the year, including on our Saturday night "Easter's eve" service. That liturgy begins at 11:30 p.m. It lasts until the wee hours of the morning, usually wrapping up a bit after 2 a.m. I always took pride in being able to stay awake that late, as my lanky, unashamed twin brother curled up on a blanket on the floor. It was a running joke in our family that even as Tim grew older, he struggled to last the whole time. I wonder if he'll stick it out this year (hehe).
After the service, we would all gather in the church's dining area, where we had carefully placed our baskets of from-scratch food before everything began. My mom spent days on that food; stuffing sausage casings by hand, baking honey ham and loaves of sweet bread peppered with raisins, cooking special cheese spreads and hard boiling eggs. Our basket was always piled high. We were ready to barter with fellow parishioners and swap new recipes we tried. To me, it was a real party. One where you finally get to eat the things you worked so hard to deprive yourself of for 40 days.
Easter Sunday's service is always held in the afternoon. It's short—a welcomed change from the night before—and the gospel reading for the day is recited by bilingual parishioners in as many languages as people can volunteer. It will first be read in English and then perhaps Polish, Russian, Spanish, Greek, Italian, French, German, Czech … and anything else people can offer. I often read the Spanish version. Sunday is when we'd have our egg hunts and candy exchanges. Since my family bred rabbits, I'd bring my favorites to show the other kids.
After all those traditions, it would all be about the bunnies. Circles of children would gather 'round, trying to catch a glimpse or hold the little fluffs.
Maybe that's how the Easter Bunny came about; to create a single, unifying tradition for Christianity. Although people may not understand the who, what, where, when and why of others' traditions, they can process the Easter bunny—an oversized rabbit handed out of candy.