Easter Is a Celebration for Everybody, Regardless of Faith

Picture: Jarosław Pocztarski

About four months after Christmas, yet another religious holiday manages to have a huge impact on most of the people’s lives in the western culture. It has always been some kind of a mystery, how in the 21st century, with alleged freedom of religion and all that comes with it, our daily lives can still be so dominated by one single religion. Easter is just one of the many reminders that this is indeed still the case.

Sure, having more days off than the usual weekends and a well-earned vacation, just due to some “national holidays,” doesn’t sound too bad at first thought. But why is it that we as a nation are still hanging on to religious holidays? If we have freedom of religion, should not those people who choose to belong to a certain one be the only ones who celebrate the holidays that come with it? Instead, besides enjoying the day off of work, usually a vast part of an entire country engages in traditions and habits that come with it, while a huge number of us claims to be non-believers. Isn’t it morally wrong to call yourself an atheist whilst exchanging presents on Christmas and enjoying chocolate eggs on Easter? And what on earth do those eggs have to do with Jesus, anyways?

In order to evaluate the moral issues behind “celebrating” Easter, let’s quickly look at some facts – or at least what is generally claimed as facts, as evidence from ancient times is not reliably available in most cases: Easter is celebrated in Western cultures in spring; depending on the calendar, it may vary by a couple of days. Since the assumed pagan origin, the event is related to rebirth – while it was an ancient goddess having to return from the dead in the original stories, Christians adjusted it to Jesus’ resurrection later. With rebirth, there naturally comes the end of darkness, the beginning of light, and other good stuff. Spring awakening, so to say. So far, so good – but what do the eggs and the bunny have to do with it?

What on earth do those eggs have to do with Jesus, anyways?

The Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre, served as name-giver and symbol-provider for the holiday. Her companion, a rabbit, simply stayed with Easter as we know it, and it conveniently delivers the eggs that we associate with the holiday: symbols of life-awakening, again, of fertility, and of new beginnings. And also Christians managed to attach a religious meaning to those: Eggs cracking open symbolize the opening of Jesus’ tomb when he was reborn.

Despite the fact that all laws of nature are more or less ignored here, with mammal-bunnies bringing eggs and dead people returning to life, it is probably safe to conclude that Easter can be celebrated by religious people just as well as by non-believers. It is so diverse and such a mix-and-match of pagan traditions, spring celebrations, and religious habits, that there is really something in it for everyone.

So no matter whether you are Christian or not, you may go and color some eggs, hide them, eat them, grow grass in a competition like they do in Finland, or engage in whatever way you prefer in the spring-awakening-celebrations. It should neither be morally wrong to do so from a non-Christian point of view, nor from the opposite viewpoint.

It is probably safe to conclude that Easter can be celebrated by religious people just as well as by non-believers.

But while we do this, let’s not forget the bigger picture here. For non-Christians, it might be an important point to consider whether or not Easter is a religious holiday. They want nothing to do with this. Christians, on the other hand, might find it offensive that non-believers celebrate “their” holiday despite the lack of belief. We still live in a world where religion is one of the biggest triggers of conflict.

While it, unfortunately, might only be human to think in terms of them versus us, religion has most certainly always helped to emphasize and add value to this kind of thinking. And in the globalized world we live in, where we mix cultures and beliefs and traditions in the same city, district or classroom, it is more apparent than ever that a strong belief (or disbelief) can be a huge problem.

International and intercultural organizations have to fight against xenophobia, starting within their own structures. Statements like “I am [insert any religion], and I am proud of it!” make you wonder what’s the deal here. How can anyone be proud of belonging to a certain religion? It was, in the best case, a matter of choice, not an achievement. Usually, there are no tests to thrive at in order to convert to a group of beliefs.

Actually, in most cases, people are just born into belonging to a religion. Being proud of that is comparable with being proud of belonging to a certain nationality, which is not only proven to be rather dangerous thinking but even defined by the negative term nationalism.

The feeling of considering oneself as superior over another group of people has never really lead to anything positive. Instead of evaluating which position or which group is “better” than the other, we could simply acknowledge that there are differences, and this is it. Nothing is better or worse, as with any common situation compared to an opposing one, there are advantages and disadvantages for both sides.

Take Easter as the perfect example of intertwined habits and traditions to the extent that they are not attributable to a specific belief or origin anymore.

A young witch on her way to wish ‘Happy Easter’ to the people of the village in Eastern Uusimaa region. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

So if you were wondering whether or not you can celebrate religious holidays with a clear conscience: stop overthinking. Take Easter as the perfect example of intertwined habits and traditions to the extent that they are not attributable to a specific belief or origin anymore.

Look at the Finns: they even throw in some witches there. Based on Swedish and Western-Finnish traditions, kids dress up as witches and go from door to door asking for treats. This spring-awakening-celebration, including birch branches, oddly reminds of American Halloween-traditions, doesn’t it? There you go, yet another event is entangled with the whole ancient-pagan-Christian-mix.

Why on earth the Finnish cuisine had to add the suspiciously-looking, yet tasty, rye-paste mämmi in vanilla cream to Easter will, however, always remain the biggest mystery of them all.

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