Neal Cohen is an attorney in New York City where he lives with his wife, Briana Maley.
My First Easter
August 7, 2006
Afraid. It sounds strange to say it now, but I was always a little afraid of what it would be like to celebrate a Christian holiday. Growing up and feeling different, as a Jew in a Christian society and knowing about the terrible history of persecution suffered by Jews in Europe for centuries, I was a little apprehensive about what really goes on at Christian celebrations.
My soon-to-be mother-in-law, Susan, is a religious Catholic and a wonderful woman. She has always been inclusive of my background and I have never been made to feel uncomfortable while at her home. For example, she has respected my kosher observances by stocking the refrigerator with items that I could eat, sent me cards for Jewish holidays, bought me cute Judaica kitsch and, as my fiancée and I became more serious, she educated herself on Judaism and asked me intelligent questions about my religion. Last year was the first year that I was invited to spend Easter with the family. After politely turning down the opportunity to go to church with them, there were two events remaining: dinner and the Easter Egg Hunt.
The marquee event at Easter was the Easter Egg Hunt. These hunts occupy an almost magical part of my imagination. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were these remarkably omnipresent features of growing up in America. When you are taught not to relate to them, as I was, you don't really know what they are like.
Once, when I was younger and we lived in a mostly Christian neighborhood, my parents caved in to the pressures of the majority Christian neighborhood. My brother and I woke up on Christmas morning and, lo and behold, we had red and white stockings stuffed with all sorts of great kids' stuff. Later that day, we went outside to play with the neighborhood kids and all their new Christmas toys. While we only had that stocking once, I still remember it vividly to this day. I remember the relief of "fitting in" outside in the neighborhood as opposed to making excuses about why we didn't have any new toys to share.
The Easter Bunny, however, and the whole Easter experience still remained a mystery to me. The first Easter that I attended at Susan's house was, to be frank, a bit anticlimactic. I don't say this in a negative sense, because if it had been as I had expected, I probably would have been uncomfortable.
Any talk about Jesus or crucifixion makes me nervous and apprehensive, but fortunately I didn't have to cope with any of that. Instead, the whole experience was like any other festive family dinner, in any religion. We ate turkey, greens, and mashed potatoes, among many other delicious items. Susan had gone out of her way, as usual, to make certain that there would be plenty of non-pork fare available for me. The food was delicious, the conversation fun, and it was a lovely dinner.
Then came the Easter Egg Hunt. Susan is well known for laying out close to 200 eggs in her average suburban yard. Present were members of the family and Susan's friends of all ages. We all raced around the yard trying to win the grand prize by finding the most eggs. There was also a booby prize for the competitor with the least amount of eggs. In fact, the hunt showed me a new part of my fiancée Briana that I had really never seen before--a crazy desire to win! I don't know if it was because she was competing against family, but I will always remember that day as the time when I saw the competitive "eye of the tiger" in my beloved.
Afraid? No more. If anything, it must certainly be more difficult for my fiancée to come to my family's home for Passover than for me to go to her family's home for Easter. At Passover, we follow tradition by having a seder, meaning "order," the name for the ritual meal at which we retell the story of the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt to biblical Israel. We retell it using a haggadah, or "storybook." Although my family is not particularly devout, the seder still has many religious and nationalist overtones which could make it difficult for someone who didn't grow up with it. Easter at Susan's home, however, does not entail a dramatic retelling of the Easter story. By comparison, I have it easy.
For most Americans, religious holidays have transformed from festivals specifically commemorating an historic event to gatherings celebrating family life. This means that for most of us who are in interfaith relationships, the similarities between Passover and Easter--the festive family meals--are stronger than the underlying theology that divides the holidays. Although my beloved now is as familiar with matzah and the seder plate as I am with Easter eggs and lots of chocolate, we celebrate each holiday as a family. My first Easter was a fun and memorable family experience.