By ANNE T. DONAHUE
Saturday, April 20, 2019
Anne T. Donahue is the author of Nobody Cares.
I dreaded Easter as a teenager. I loved the candy, the chocolate and the four-day weekend, but growing up Catholic meant there was more to the holiday than Cadbury commercials and decorated eggs.
My parents were active church members and, because they spent most of the holiday singing, volunteering or playing the organ (my dad knows his way around a Casavant), I grew up tagging along.
Which, as a kid, was totally fine.
Even then, I liked hanging out with my parents. And because I grew up going to church, I also liked most of the people we knew there. Plus, thanks to weekly masses and my Catholic school curriculum, I knew how special Easter weekend was: On Holy Thursday, Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Last Supper before he was betrayed by his ol' pal Judas. On Good Friday, Jesus died on the cross as a result of said betrayal. On Saturday - well, I'm still not sure what the hourslong Easter Vigil is about (and after attending one in Grade 9, I'm grateful my parents never made me go again).
And then on Easter Sunday, Jesus rises from the dead and we as a collective rejoice. (Whew.)
Minus the Easter vigil (which isn't mandatory), I grew up going to all the other weekend services. But the older I got, the more I began resenting the fact that my less "devout" friends got to spend four days doing nothing while I was stuck hearing about all things associated with crucifixions.
Which feels even worse when your belief in Catholicism is seriously starting to wane: By 16 and 17, I couldn't have cared less about my religion. I'd begun to resent the church for its legacy of exclusion, and after a visiting priest made an inappropriate sexual comment to me after I sought his advice, I emotionally and mentally detached from the institution I now associated with discomfort and lack of freedom. While it was never my parents' intention (they just wanted to pass along traditions that were important to them), I'd never been given a chance to decide if I even wanted to be Catholic. So, by the time I was 18, I'd decided I didn't.
My fall from grace was fast and tumultuous. Without the obligation of going to services, I reserved Good Fridays for drinking wine from water bottles with best friends while we scream-sang hymns we'd learned in elementary school (because growing up is weird and messy). Holy Thursdays then transformed to merely Thursdays, and Easter Sunday was, for me, now a holiday defined by treats and rest until it was time to get ready for family dinner. And of course, I was a disrespectful nightmare. Far into my 20s, I went out of my way to tell my mom how wrong she was about Catholicism and how little I thought of the institution and any/all spiritually associated with it. I put her down and made her feel foolish for thinking she could influence my own beliefs (while also making her feel guilty for even trying). So Easter quickly became a way for me to flaunt my descent into darkness: I bragged about sleeping in, rolled my eyes when my parents went to mass and reminded anyone who would listen that the entire holiday revolved around a glorified ghost story. I didn't acknowledge for a second that my mom and dad hadn't tried to push me back into Catholicism once I told them it wasn't something I believed anymore, and they were receptive and respectful to my choices. But it didn't matter because I was angry and entitled and wading through the emotions that go with figuring out who you want to be. So for a few years, Easter to me was just a reminder of how many weekends I lost to something I felt nothing for.
Perhaps surprisingly, there wasn't a catalyst for choosing to abandon my angst and to begin treating my parents like people. As I morphed from my 20s and into my 30s, I began untangling my own anger and feelings from what I'd begun projecting onto my mom and dad and, over time, also started to realize that I could reclaim Easter in my own way while still celebrating it with my family. After all, it was still cause for dinner with people I love, and not all memories of it were steeped in a priest's retelling of the Passion.
Outside of church, I had fun with my grandparents and aunts and uncles at Easter, and I lived for any and all bunny-shaped chocolate I managed to score. Plus, spring and Easter are so ingrained that I didn't want to untie the idea that one of the best parts of the year tends to begin around the same time an influx of Cadbury Creme Eggs arrives. Some traditions aren't meant to be burned and salted where they once stood.
Some are merely meant to be tweaked or adapted to suit and respect everybody, regardless of religious leanings.
Because sure, Easter is a holiday so religious that a teacher used to remind me that it was actually more important than Christmas. But, as someone who long disconnected from the church and whose own beliefs don't fall within the boundaries of Catholicism, I see Easter as something much different. It's a holiday that helped push me out of a religion I wasn't happy in. It's an excuse to see my grandpa and aunts and uncles and parents, absolutely, but it's also a reason to remind the friends I grew up with of our long-ago tradition of spending Good Friday redefining debauchery. (Although now we usually just eat snacks at someone's house.)
It's Easter chocolate and spring and good food as it always was, but it's also now a chance for me to use those four days full of friends and rest and books and to carve out time and make new traditions and memories.
Now, I make bread pudding for breakfast while my parents are at church, and we all descend on the rest of the family later in the day after we've taken a few hours to nap and give each other space. So what was once a holiday of dread has evolved into a reminder that it's possible to declare independence, to heal after years of hurt, and that it's possible to separate who you were from who you are - even if it means reclaiming Peeps and Mini Eggs.
The Beaches Easter Parade in Toronto in April, 1993. PETER TYM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL