“What does Easter mean to you?” my father asked me just yesterday. He wasn’t asking about how we celebrate Easter, about the traditions in our family, which he of course knows about. He wanted to know how I interpret resurrection. He started a discussion about the concept of all humans being sinners by birth, and the teachings of Jesus as God’s son, who takes away all our sins through his own death.
To understand why a talk like that is a bit of a surreal experience for me, you need to know that I grew up in a family with a catholic mother—who wasn’t practicing her religion but whose beliefs and fears were strongly shaped by the belief systems of the Catholic church—and an atheist father with an uncompromising belief system of “nothingness” after death.
Now that my mother has passed on and my father himself is in his eighties, he is reflecting more about our mortality and the here and after. He is interested in what spiritual concepts other people find comfort and peace in. I can sense a longing in him to believe in something, yet his logical mind is struggling with a whole set of beliefs about whether it is okay to believe anything at all. He is unaware that—beyond spiritual beliefs—our entire reality and all our experiences are based on our individual beliefs, and more importantly, on our collective beliefs about this world.
As I am answering his questions, sharing my own very personal spirituality with him, he almost makes me laugh out loud because he grumbles “you mix and match religions”. He is struggling to understand how I can possibly be so sure that our soul will continue beyond the death of the physical body, and why I choose to believe that we can all be close to God. In fact, that we all are God—or whatever you want to call that Divine Energy which flows through every one of us.
I don’t think my father will find the answers he is looking for about an afterlife or re-incarnation until he himself is on the other side. I should make an agreement with him to come back after his passing and to give me a clear message or sign that his soul indeed continued in the eternal cycle of life.
So what does Easter mean to me? Easter—more than the religious meanings—has a strong component of being a family tradition, just like Christmas, New Year’s or Thanksgiving. Every family has their own rituals. Easter for me spells out sunshine, spring flowers, a wonderful new beginning, the eternal life cycle, re-birth, but most of all family togetherness and fun time.
When my oldest daughter was little, the TV show “Blues Clues” was her absolute favourite. That started our family tradition of Easter treasure hunts rather than just hiding eggs and looking for them. Over the years, the treasure hunts got more elaborate, pictures became words, words became riddles, English or German riddles became French or Spanish “clues”, depending on what language my children were learning at the time. I was delighted when my older daughter took on the task of creating the treasure hunt for her younger sister. Like some of our favourite Christmas or New Year’s traditions, the treasure hunt will undoubtedly also be passed on to the next generation in some form.
Despite the girls being almost grown-up now, they still enjoy the treasure hunt for their Easter basket. However, other Easter traditions which used to be part of our celebrations, like colouring eggs or making Easter crafts have lost their attraction for them. Sometimes, you need to give your family traditions an overhaul. While traditions provide a sense of belonging and create lasting memories, they must be altered to keep up with changes in the family. After all, traditions are supposed to serve our family, not keep us stuck in the past. Flexible traditions enhance the family sense.
What about blended families? What can they do to enjoy those first holidays as a newly formed family? A key is to be willing to modify your rituals to suit your new bonus family. It is a fine line to walk between keeping some of the old traditions for your own children to give them a sense of continuation and opening up to embracing new traditions to welcome new members to the family. Sometimes we tend to make it all about the younger members of the family and we forget the feelings of the older ones. The result could be that the older children learn that they and their needs don’t matter as much.
Somebody told me a childhood Easter story which is a prime example that we learn limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world during those precious holiday experiences. He is the oldest son with two much younger half-siblings. One Easter, after both his siblings had been born, he was excited to find many Easter treats. When he proudly brought his basket filled with his goodies back inside, he was presented with a letter from the Easter Bunny, telling him that from now on he would have to share every Easter egg with his baby siblings.
As much as I can appreciate the parent’s attempt to teach the son the values of sharing, this child also learned destructive beliefs like “I can never get ahead in life.” “When I have had a success it will be taken away.” “I don’t deserve to be successful.” “Why do I even bother to put any effort in?”
Obviously, one experience like this does not teach us lifelong limiting beliefs about ourselves. Most people have repeatedly been taught certain beliefs. The parents in this example could have avoided the sobering experience, had they from the start explained that from now on, the Easter Bunny was bringing three times as many treats for all the children and that he, as the oldest, would for now have the important job to find all the eggs. He could have learned that there is enough for everybody, that he deserves good things and he could have felt proud of taking care of others.
Wishing all of you, your families and children of all ages a