Growing up in a household that combined Jewish observances, Unitarian ideals and a generally secular humanist mood, I was never entirely clear on Easter’s meaning.
Christmas, I understood. Observers of all nature of religions and sects can still agree – though admittedly not all do – that Jesus was born and that his presence in history is significant, regardless of where their beliefs fall in relation to the Holy Trinity. So the meaning of Christmas was always clear to me: a celebration of Jesus’ birth, whether you consider Jesus the son of God, a prophet, or a fine and eloquent teacher.
But Easter is different. Without adhering to the idea of the Resurrection, how do we justify our right to observe it? While the oft-repeated secular idea of a holiday, whatever its name, honoring rebirth and the new life that springtime symbolizes is appealing, I’ve never understood why Easter should be specifically identified as that day.
As a child, I barely knew about Good Friday, and only last month did I finally familiarize myself with the meaning of Palm Sunday. That was because I had to teach a Sunday School lesson on it at the Unitarian church that my children and I attend. There, we make an effort to understand and educate our children about as many different forms of religion and personal belief as possible; in Sunday school, after we discussed Passover, Palm Sunday and the Spring Equinox, we made a poster showing all the different symbols associated with springtime and the holidays, from eggs to rabbits to the Christian cross to the Passover matzoh.
None of which quite explains why my discussion with my children yesterday afternoon centered on Drew Barrymore.
It was yet another one of those conversations with my children when if I take so much as a split second to step back and listen to myself talk, I can only ask with figurative dropped jaw, “How did I get myself into this?”
We were driving home from my in-laws’ house, where we’d had an Easter feast that included both an egg hunt and Grace before dinner: traditions both secular and religious. My 7-year-old looked out at all the cars with families returning from similar celebrations and asked why so many people celebrate Easter.
"Because no matter what your religious beliefs are, it's a good day to spend with your family," I said. "Major holidays are a nice time for everyone to take a break from what they normally do and get together with family instead."
“I feel sorry for all the American Idol finalists," she mused. "They had to miss out on spending Easter with their families because they’re still in Hollywood.”
“Not everyone spends Easter with their families,” I amended. “Some people spend it with their friends.”
“Well, I guess that’s what they did, then,” Holly persisted, still fixated on American Idol, “because by this time in the season, all the finalists are friends with each other. So they spent Easter together.”
Though American Idol finalist is one of the last roles I can imagine holding, I can hardly feel too sorry for them for their Easter logistics. I’m guessing they’re perfectly happy to be holed up in their practice sessions and wardrobe appointments this weekend. “Besides, some people consider their friends to be family,” I continued. “For example, Drew Barrymore.”
This spontaneous comment was the result of an interview I heard with Drew Barrymore on Fresh Air last year, in which she told Terry Gross that she no longer has a relationship with her mother but she has friends who are just like family to her and so, she assured Terry, it was okay about the rift with her famously problematic mother.
“Who’s Drew Barrymore?” both kids wanted to know.
“She’s an actress.”
“Why are her friends like her family?”
“Because she doesn’t get along with her mother.”
As a journalist, there is no one in the world I hold in higher professional regard than Terry Gross. And once I start recounting things I heard on Fresh Air, I’m pretty much on automatic pilot. “Well, because she was very successful right from childhood, from when she was your age. And I think that now she feels like her mother didn’t necessarily help her or give her good advice.”
“Like about what to do with the money she made?” my eleven-year-old asked.
“Yes, and what roles to take. But she told Terry Gross that she has such good friends that they’re like a family to her.”
My husband shot me a look at this point. “Remind me again of what the rift between Drew and Jaid Barrymore has to do with Easter?”
Okay, nothing. That’s what happens when you try to explain things to kids. You get so sidetracked that you end up not quite able to believe what you hear yourself saying. We’ve all done it at some time or another. My mother once found herself actively competing with my then five-year-old niece and my niece’s friend over who knew someone with fewer limbs, and I famously once defended Tim by telling another mom that Tim was much more like a girl than her son was.
The kids didn’t have any further questions, though. Not about the Barrymores and not about the Resurrection. Which is fortunate because I didn’t have any more answers. Although if they want to know anything about Palm Sunday, I’m all set.