“You have to eat the Easter cake otherwise you aren’t a christian, and you won’t go to heaven.”
I’m supposed to be on a diet. I don’t really believe in heaven, and if I did then I wouldn’t be expecting to go there. I do believe in hedging my bets though, and I like cake. Pascal’s wager. Maybe it’ll buy me some heavenpoints. Today was a little bit of a break from the stricture of the diet, inevitably. I went round my carnivorous brother Max’s house: “There’s no veg, Max” “Yes there is – we’re cooking potatoes.”
First thing uncles have to do is Easter bunny duty. Hundreds of eggs in a small garden. It takes ages to hide that many eggs, and the children snatched most of them up in minutes. It was like watching three howling cyclones. Rather than searching in things, they caught on that knocking them over would probably make all of the eggs fall out and then they could scoop them off the floor. As I watched them I wondered how Easter got tangled up with eggs. If the Easter Cake is so important to orthodox Russians that I had to eat a bit even on a diet, what is the significance of the eggs?
Well first it’s a rebirth thing I suppose. This time of year is all about fertility. Eggs are new life. Bunnies are shagging and breeding all the time. Both are pertinent symbols for the beginning of Spring. It’s not long before everyone dances round a phallus singing songs. The early Christians quickly caught on that the best way to stamp out rival religions is to absorb their customs and change their significance a little. It’s strange that there was all that furore about “Easter” not being on the poster for egg hunts. Where does the word come from anyway?
The Dark Ages are dark because very little was written down. People were mostly illiterate. We were an oral tradition. In an oral tradition, there are people who are the carriers of stories – Skalds and Bards etc. They were brought up from an early age to understand and be able to pass on the the tales that inform the culture they work in. Home grown myths are the best for understanding the needs of the place they’re grown in. All the old Testament stories regarding saving a portion of your crops against famine etc are preserved warnings based on hard lessons. The Romans and subsequent conquerors and witch hunters ensured that anyone who was able to pass on our oral traditions died with their stories. All that remain are scatterings, and old wives tales, and the feast days superstitions and customs – observed more clearly than they are understood. There are probably things we can do with our native plants that were discovered through years of trial and error that we will never know. One of the only reasonably reliable sources we have for what was happening back then is a monk called Bede who set himself up as a chronicler. He claims that “Eostre” was a German fertility goddess symbolised by a rabbit. That would certainly key into the whole business of spring and rebirth and fertility. But with him as the only source it’s easy to discredit it.
With some excellent symbolic thinking, my brother cooked a lamb. I didn’t eat it though – I have to draw the line at red meat for now. My own (equally arbitrary) superstitions and observances got in the way. The cake was enough. I had a plate of hastily heated up frozen peas with potatoes and looked longingly at my 14 year old nephew as he paraded around the kitchen wielding the entire bone, occasionally pausing to try to bite through it in order to suck out the marrow, and finally attacking it with tools once he accepted that his teeth would go before the bone went.
Lovely to spend a day with my family in Eostremonath, and hang out with the kids. I’m gasping for chocolate now though…