When holidays like Easter and Passover roll around each year, I can’t help but compare my childhood to our fast-paced modern life. My memories pass before me like an 8mm film, with a jumpy picture and the clicking sound of spinning reels.
On Easter morning, 1972, I was peering over the balcony’s banister at the congregation below. I was wearing a white dress and hat that my aunt crocheted for me, with a label inside that read, “Made especially for you by Aunt Char.”
She even made me a matching purse, using the bottom half of a white Ivory dish soap bottle with a crocheted draw-string top. When I pulled the top down over the soap bottle like a skirt, a doll’s torso was revealed, turning the purse into a tiny replica of me.
I sat ever-so-patiently in the church pew, playing with my doll purse and jingling the charms on my mother’s bracelet. After the final hymn, I tried to avoid scuffing my patent leather shoes as my older brother and I weaved our way through the crowds to our station wagon.
The vehicle hadn’t come to a complete stop in our driveway before my brother pushed the enormous, simulated-wood-paneled door open, and leapt out like an escaped inmate. I tried to follow, but the giant door nearly knocked me over on the rebound.
It no longer mattered whether my hat stayed bobby-pinned in place, because the egg hunt was on. I didn’t stop to wonder how the Easter Bunny had broken into our refrigerator to hide the eggs we had dyed with food coloring and vinegar the night before. I just ran like hell.
My brother didn’t particularly like hard-boiled eggs, but the competitive nature of an egg hunt always sent him on a wild rampage. He whizzed past me in his miniaturized polyester suit, swooping right and left. When all the eggs had been found, my mother lead us to hidden baskets laden with jelly beans, marshmallow peeps, and foil-wrapped chocolate eggs.
My parents allowed us to gobble our spoils, provided we would eat an obligatory slice of ham and plop of scalloped potatoes at supper. However, I always squirreled my treats away, rationing them one by one until some went stale. In retrospect, I wish I had feasted, because a few years later during my chunky phase, the Easter Bunny inexplicably filled my basket with sugarless gum, icky raisins, and sunflower seeds.
At supper, we said a blessing that began, “For food and health and happy days, accept our gratitude and praise.” My brother and I toasted with our milk in fancy pressed glass goblets. After dessert, we gathered in front of the console TV to watch the annual broadcast of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner.
There, in our avocado and gold living room, I was truly content.
Nowadays, I wonder, has our hectic 21st Century lifestyle obscured the meaning of holidays?
According to a Pew Research Center 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, fewer Americans today attend religious services regularly. Even though 77% of American adults are still affiliated with some faith tradition, only about half attend religious services.
I’ll admit, sometimes weeks go by without our church-going family seeing a pew. I haven’t bothered with the messy process of dying Easter eggs since the kids were little. Simple jellybeans no longer reign supreme – the kids reject those candy dinosaurs, preferring flashy foil-packaged miniatures in every brand. And frankly, I’m afraid to force “The Ten Commandments” on my family, because the kids will probably balk at the 1950s special effects that allowed Moses to part the Red Sea.
As the 8mm reel of my memories slows to a film-flapping stop, I realize that the meaning of a holiday is not in the traditions, but the principals observed. As long as we honor the tenets of Easter, Passover and other holidays in our own way, it doesn’t really matter whether we dye eggs, wear itchy dresses, or eat jellybeans.
(But just in case, “The Ten Commandments” is airing on April 15th at 7:00 pm on ABC.)