Just briefly at some point in the news on Thursday I saw footage of the queen giving out Maundy Money on Thursday: Maundy Thursday. The whole thing goes back to Christ washing the disciples feet. Until the death of James II, the British monarch used to wash the feet of selected poor people. Then that was stopped and for a good long time now the monarch just gives out money, supposedly to the deserving poor. Who decides who receives the royal gift? Well, it seems that nowadays the people who are chosen to receive the money have been recommended by clergy or ministers in recognition for the services to the church or local community. There you go; I rather thought the hats on display among the 91 women receiving the Queen's bounty suggested that they were not poor, deserving or otherwise!
I see that Tesco has joined Cadbury's and the National Trust in the select group of those who offend against Christianity this Easter. They put out an advertisement along the lines of "Great offers on beer and wine! Good Friday just got better!" Vicar and broadcaster, the Reverend Richard Coles, said the advert was "extraordinarily and unnecessarily ignorant". We should remember and respect what Easter is all about, he comments. Tesco apologised but also pointed out that for many people Easter is simply a secular holiday. Judging by numbers who were stuck in traffic jams yesterday that would indeed seem to be the case.
On the hill just outside our village every year they set up three crosses every year just before Easter. I am not sure when this particular tradition started. I don't remember seeing them when we moved into his house thirty years ago. But as I ran around the village yesterday morning, Good Friday morning, I found myself in a moment of nostalgia, remembering the Good Fridays of my childhood when I would go to church with my father. I loved those Easter hymns such as "There is a green hill far away". If I miss anything connected to the church I dropped out of long ago it's those solemn, moving hymns.
We would always return home to the smell of hot cross buns, warmed up in the oven by my mother. Why did she not go to church with us? She can't have left the hot cross buns to warm up for the whole time of the service and back then there were no timers on the oven. Maybe she stayed home with the younger children, although they did go along to the Easter Sunday service. It's a small mystery. But all my memories are just of me and my father at the early morning service. And the smell of hot cross buns can take me right back. Proust can keep his madeleines for I have hot cross buns.
Here's a link to a video clip that has been doing the rounds. An extremely articulate three year old has some difficulty understanding why her parents give her loads of chocolate at Easter and, for that matter, Hallowe'en, Christmas, and her birthday. The rest of the time they tell her it's bad for her. Besides, isn't there a big problem with obesity?
I am just astounded at how well she expresses all these ideas, especially her comments about bunnies not even laying eggs!
The question remains: why do we chocolate eggs at Easter? So I did a little research. It turns out that eggs were traditionally banned by e church during Lent. And so, for centuries, Europeans have decorated eggs to give to children at Easter in celebration of the new season. Here comes another memory: my mother used to boil eggs with onion skin in the water so that the eggs came out extra brown for Easter! The Victorians adapted "Holy Week eggs" into cardboard eggs containing small gifts. However, the first chocolate eggs appeared in Germany in the 1800s and have been around ever since. (I have been told that we have the Germans to thank for Christmas trees as well!) And the chocolate egg tradition has spread; I can remember when you did not see them in Spain, except possibly in Catalonia, which has always prided itself on being rather more cosmopolitan! Nowadays, of course, Easter eggs are all over Spain.
And, finally, we must not forget that many Christian festivities were sort of overlaid onto pre-existing pagan festivals. Christmas coincides with the winter solstice. And eggs have always been a pretty potent fertility!
Think of that when you munch those chocolate eggs tomorrow!