Many times in my life, I have heard the question, “So why do you celebrate Easter, anyway, if you don’t believe in Jesus?” Well, first, let me get the assumptive part of that question out of the way: It’s not that we don’t “believe in” Jesus. We believe he existed, and it appears he led an exemplary life that we should study, admire, and take as an example. We also happen to believe he was a mortal man.
As for Easter, well, that requires a little more explanation when I’m speaking with someone who connects it wholly with the resurrection. Although Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian denomination, UU’s are very cognizant of the fact that we are descended from Christianity and, thus, from Judaism. We, on the whole, therefore choose to honor that heritage by celebrating, or at least acknowledging, the celebrations dear to those religions. (And dozens other religions from around the world, all of whose teachings we believe to be relevant and important.) Since most UU’s come from a Christian family background, it’s common for them to have a stronger association with Christian holidays. This is why you see more of us hunting for Easter eggs than hosting or attending Passover Seders. We don’t think one is more important than the other, it’s simply what we’re used to. (However, you’ll probably find that most UU congregations do host Passover Seders these days, as well.)
This is the case in our household. I was raised UU, but my parents are from a Christian heritage, so we always identified with and celebrated Christmas and Easter as a social, family holiday. Jason was raised a Catholic, so he obviously has similar (albeit more religiously-inclined) holiday memories from his childhood. We love these holiday times and remember well the joy they brought us as children, so we enjoy sharing the same with our kids.
So, what are we ‘celebrating’ on Easter morning? Well, we do like eggs. And bunnies.* In all seriousness, what we’re truly celebrating is the renewal of the earth. In pagan religions, this is typically celebrated on or around the Vernal Equinox. In the same way that the Church chose to annex the pagan sun god’s birthday for the celebration of Christmas, we choose to delay our Equinox celebration until Easter…everyone’s off work and school, the celebration “time” is already acknowledged by society, etc. (And the bunnies & eggs are readily available!) This is an amazing time of year – the flowers are in bloom (and the pollen is making itself more than well known), the birds’ eggs are hatching, and everything seems a little fresher, a little newer than at any other time of year. Just think how amazing this time was to early men and women, who in many parts of the world had just come through a dark, dismal few (or many!) months. Imagine that cold and darkness dissipating, and the relief they must have felt when Spring made itself known each year. Talk about a reason to celebrate!
The other reason for celebration on this day is the same for every holiday – family tradition. Building traditions and memories for our children and ourselves is more than enough reason to celebrate. We are giving them happy events to look forward to and great things to remember. We’re also giving ourselves memories that will be well-cherished after they have grown. Yes, we build these memories on a daily basis, but building them around an annual framework of holidays and celebrations offers a kind of grounding of those memories, I think.
And there’s always the eggs. And bunnies.
*Jason’s response when I asked him if I should add anything to this post on his behalf. Ha!