Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, April 17, 2017.
I must’ve been 10 or so when I got that orange plaid dress for Easter. It had delicate lace around the pockets and a set of nice white buttons down the front. It had spring written all over it. The sun seemed to shine a tad brighter when I stepped outside wearing it.
Among many other things, Easter in Transylvania meant that we dyed eggs, often using onion peels, which gave the shells fascinating shades of dark red, brown, and purple. We’d gather handfuls of bright green grass and make a cosy fresh nest for all the dyed eggs in there. To this day, I manage to get a raised eyebrow or two when I step into a grocery store and ask for onion peels prior to Easter weekend. My explaining of why I need them leaves people with a smile and a sigh. Often time I hear ‘My grandmother used to do that…’
Chocolate was not a fixture at Easter when I was a kid. There was lots of good baking to be had, and wherever you went, everyone would have platefuls of goodies to indulge in for days after. A bit of a statement, if you will, that celebrations are never meant to be had by yourself.
Easter breakfast, which always followed the (very) early morning Easter sermon at the nearby Orthodox church, had a display of ‘firsts’: first green onions, first radishes, first fresh herbs. Those Easter eggs tasted different than any other boiled eggs. Subjective, you say? Of course, but that is both implied and necessary. There was a deep sense of reverence towards all that we shared on that day.
My sister and I would get something new, whether sandals or dresses, and I always treasured those items a whole lot more than any others I got on other occasions. If I had to venture into guessing why that was… I’d say that a colourful jolly dress matched the almost unmatchable feeling of renewal that filled the air, bursting through every leaf and flower bud.
That early Sunday morning when we’d be dressed anew and setting up the colourful breakfast table meant the culmination of a lengthy, sober and hopeful at the same time, process that contained the Easter lent, which my family observed, that early morning service that had us tired, yet never grumbling, and all the goodies my mom prepared for days in advance with us kids helping as much as we could.
It was part of it all, a completion of sorts, year after year, of a tradition that you find a good spot for in the basket of memories you balance on your arm as you walk along the path, only to access it years later and be grateful that it has become part of who you are today.
My maternal grandmother passed away when I was 6, and my maternal grandfather after my 9th birthday. I remember standing next to my mom during the following Easter service, holding a trembling candle in my hand, and wanting so much to believe that one day I will see my grandparents again. I missed them so.
The Easter chant that people united to sing in a chorus every year professed the very thing. Life and death are intertwined in ways that are impossible to understand when you’re a child, but those moments added a dimension of hope that helped with transitioning to accepting the reality of an everchanging surrounding world.
My paternal grandparents passed away a few years later, and recently, my parents too. Needless to say, no day, ordinary or celebratory, has been the same with my parents gone. Every day has its own joy and pain weaved into it, and gratefulness abounds. As they should.
Every spring when the first green onion shoots poke their heads out in the garden, my mind goes back to the days when I would gingerly pull a few out of the dirt in preparation for that breakfast that had joy, togetherness, sweetness, and more goodness than a child’s soul can embrace.
The smell of something I choose to cook or bake for my family in preparation for Easter brings back memories of the laughter my sister and I would have with my Mom over some failed pastries or another small kitchen disaster; memories of the bonanza of flavours our pantry held in anticipation of the day when the lent would be broken with that first bite that made up for all the waiting. Not a hint of instant gratification…
That our days now are hurried and the world has new crazy happenings just when you think one more would be too much, is true. That’s when is most important to hit the brakes allow ourselves to go back as far as we can remember, to where the magic of times past resides.
Reaching into that space that holds so many sunny Easter morning stories becomes the very pencil with which I draw the circle where I invite my boys to step in to listen to stories, to taste food, spring, and hope at the same time, and learn that perhaps one of the secrets of the big celebratory days such as Easter is hidden in how they help us weave an added armful of gratefulness into every ordinary day. Happy Easter!