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Easter is upon us and like every year for my entire life, I did what I always do, which is wander around in a kind of fog as to the exact date of the holiday. Since Easter is what is called a movable feast its precise date is up for grabs every year and even though I look it up far in advance, I usually end up forgetting and having to look it up all over again later. For some reason, Easter tries to elude me every single year. There are some terribly complex rules as to when Easter will be celebrated every year having to do with full moons and the vernal equinox and whatnot, and whether or not you follow the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar. The method for choosing the date has changed so often over the centuries that I can't be sure it isn't really chosen by some blindfolded monk throwing a dart at a calendar and calling it good. It's confusing.
When I was a kid there was a family in our neighborhood who owned a great big house with huge complex gardens that had been built by gangsters in San Francisco in the 1920's as a country retreat. It may have been built by financiers or politicians, which kind of amounts to the same thing anyway. Evidently, retreating involved playing a lot of pool and cards while drinking tubs of alcohol in a huge pool room, sneaking around on hidden garden paths, and shacking up with a bunch of ladies of the evening. Just your typical rich man fun. We had a big Easter egg hunt there every year and we all went. There were plenty of places to hide eggs and candy and the kid who found the most got a huge chocolate bunny wrapped in golden foil. Needless to say, my brothers and I never won.
In my house, Easter, like all the holidays, called for many decorations and lots of fun. When my kids were very little we had a simple easter egg hunt, with plastic eggs that held candy. As they got older, the festivities became a good deal more sophisticated. Once they could read I switched to eggs that held clues to the location of other eggs that ultimately led to the big prize, which was a treasure chest of candy. I made the choice to turn it into a cooperative effort rather than a competition so that they had to work together to solve the clues. As they got older the clues became more and more difficult to solve and usually involved rhyming couplets, which of course, made them more and more difficult to write and I had to begin planning the thing earlier every year. I can only blame myself.
My daughter, Katie, called me the other day and announced that she was planning just such a hunt for her fiancé. She planned on sending him all around town on the hunt and had chosen her locations. Now all she had to do was write the clues – in rhyme.
“Have fun with that,” I cheerily told her.
“Actually, Mom,” she said, “I was thinking more along the lines of you having fun with that.”
I won't lie to you, I kind of saw this coming. There are certain aspects of parenting that never end. I wrote the clues, of course; it didn't take long and was really kind of fun for me. She's the artist so I wrote them and she put them in Elizabethan writing on paper yellowed with tea leaves and strategically burned on the corners so that they look like something Indiana Jones might find. Nice touch. Planting them sneakily is all on her. I have to do the same business for Chuck so I have a lot more plotting and rhyming to do.
Easter eggs, egg hunts, bunnies, and treats all come from very old Saxon traditions from thousands of years ago. After the vernal equinox the Saxons celebrated the feast of the Ostara, or Eastre, the female goddess of spring and fertility. They painted eggs because eggs sort of lend themselves to fertility, and they used rabbits as symbols because...well...they breed like rabbits. It was the Saxons who decorated eggs and had children hunt for them and created the story of the Osterhase, or Easter Hare. From the Saxons came the different traditions all over Europe, some of which are a little bizarre in as much as it is impossible to draw an evolutionary line from the original celebration to later adaptations. For instance, in Sweden, Finland, and Denmark Easter includes children dressing up as Easter witches and going door to door collecting candy and eggs in exchange for decorated pussy willows. In Norway the modern tradition is to do all the egg and candy stuff but also like to go up to mountain cabins, cross-country ski and enjoy a good murder mystery. The whole country dedicates a week to reading, watching, listening to, and playing out Agatha Christie stories. The biggest surprise is the Czech Republic and Slovakia where on the Monday after Easter men take whips made out of ribbons called pomlazka and spank the women. Seriously. No one is supposed to suffer at all, and I bet they don't. I bet they manage to make it lots of fun. The ancient legend is that women who are spanked once a year will have good health and great beauty for the entire year. The women are allowed to retaliate the next day by throwing cold water on any man they want to. I have no idea where that came from.
Personally, I'm sticking with the Saxons, who may have invaded Britain brutally and been pretty nasty in the beginning, but ended up being Robin Hood and his merry men and having some really fun parties. It could have been worse. At any rate, I'm pretty sure my daughter might have objected to an Easter spanking.
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