Most people would argue we should get on that whole Jesus train, if only for cultural relevance. A friend had her kid mistake Christ’s rising from the dead for a force-ghost thing last year and said, “So Jesus is like Obi-Wan Kenobi?” His parents were appalled. But they aren’t, to my knowledge, particularly religious, so I think the comparison is rather brilliant on that kid’s part. We do Easter without Jesus, and when I told my husband that story, he said, “Go ask our youngest who Jesus was. I dare you.”
“No,” I said. “His godparents will sense a disturbance in the Force and cry.”
Clearly we go in for Star Wars comparisons in our family.
It’s true, though: if I asked my youngest two kids who Jesus was, they’d go sort of blank-faced and maybe mumble something about Christmas and Bibles. We pulled out of the Church a few years ago and haven’t replaced it with much, though I’ve mostly returned to a vague sort of mindfulness and Dharmism — not so heavy on dogma. I’ve read them some Old Testament stories in the name of Social Studies, so they have Adam and Eve and Noah and the Flood in a context of other creation and flood myths. They know the Abrahamic religions all stem from — duh — Abraham, at least my oldest does, and he has a concept of Abraham and his likely historicity.
But major holidays? I’m not a Christian. We do Christmas and Easter without Jesus.
What Easter Celebrates
We all know that ancient Christianity stole things (St. Augustine called it “Egyptian gold”: taking what was good from so-called heathen religions and using it) and incorporated it into a larger Church doctrine. The Venerable Bede, who’s just about the oldest Saxon Christian Chronicler we’ve got, named Eostre the mother-goddess of the Saxon people, according to Religious Tolerance. Other “Teutonic Dawn Goddesses” had similar names. These got mashed in with a celebration of resurrection and renewal (think baby chicks and bunnies).
So to do Easter without Jesus, we concentrate on a celebration of springtime. This is pretty simple living in the South, since it really is springtime. Trees have begun to bud; dogwoods blossom; the azaleas have started to bloom. It’s easy to explain that we’re giving thanks because it’s finally springtime after a long winter, and look, have a chocolate bunny to celebrate.
Doing Easter Without Jesus Still Preserves Traditions
We might do Easter without Jesus. Jesus has nothing to do with seersucker. Absolutely nothing. I dress my kids to the nines while they complain, then let them loose to hunt eggs in my front yard. I wear a white dress and a giant hat. My husband will wear at least a pink polo shirt. We will look fancy.
Part of Easter, with or without Jesus, is looking fancy. You can hit that note without a big man in the sky.
Easter also demands baskets. These fit more into our concept of Easter without Jesus than Easter with Jesus. When I was a kid, we had to take them up to the Church altar to have them blessed so they weren’t quite so pagan. Our baskets can stay pagan! We stuff them full of paper Easter “grass” symbolizing spring, and fill them with candy that fits into the springtime theme: Robin’s Eggs and bunnies and my sweet Lord so many Peeps.
Then there’s the ham. Why does Easter demand ham? No one knows. I’m a vegetarian and don’t partake. But Easter without Jesus can still include ham. Why not? Every culinary tradition, from ham to mac and cheese to pecan pie, can still stand. We don’t need Jesus to have deviled eggs.
Easter Celebrates Being Together
Most of all, as Easter celebrates springtime, Easter also celebrates that last break of the winter doldrums. Winter has ended. Spring has begun. Our family made it. This year, that’s really special. We can easily celebrate Easter without Jesus this year, because there’s so much else to celebrate in this spring of hope.
Dad and I just got our second Moderna vaccine, and if we give thanks around the Easter table, it’ll be to Dolly Parton. I’m not being facetious. She’s done so much for the world with what she’s been given, and she’s a living role model we can point to and say: Be like her.
We made it through that long, dark winter of the pandemic. We were frightened. We were tired. We were angry and sad. But we made it together, and now, this spring, as the trees begin to bloom and their leaves unfurl, we can see hope on the horizon. And we can see it together, all of us. We all sacrificed, Dad and Mom and kids alike. Now we see an end.
Easter without Jesus won’t be an empty, hollow holiday. It will be, to muddle Dickens’ preface to “A Tale of Two Cities,” our spring of hope after our winter of despair. We have everything in front of us again. Easter will celebrate our Season of Light after a long Season of Darkness. We will celebrate Easter without Jesus, but we will celebrate it together in joy, remembering our own sacrifices, and our world’s coming renewal.
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