Never get into an argument with a North Carolinian about which season is the best season. When you live in a state with as many mountains, beaches, golf courses, places
Never get into an argument with a North Carolinian about which season is the best season. When you live in a state with as many mountains, beaches, golf courses, places to eat, and things to do as our state, Best Season is a losing game. But the most hopeful season, surely, is spring, and whatever the science behind the vernal equinox, Easter Sunday can’t help but herald the beginning of spring. Thing is, Easter tends to, well, hop around all over April and even March.
Ideally, the day falls late enough in the season that you don’t need to wear gloves to the sunrise service, and early enough that the dogwoods are at their peak perfection. Even better if it’s late enough that, after the ham is served, you’re able to plant the salvia and geraniums that have been rowed up for weeks at the garden center, lush and luscious, without fear of frost.
Which brings me to the area of my attic reserved for holiday decor and paraphernalia. The section dedicated to Easter is pitifully small. My children’s Easter baskets are in my children’s attics. I don’t do an Easter wreath or an Easter tree, and those eggs that dangle from trees in yards … how do they even do that? One reason for the scarcity of decorations, I think, might be that I’m still suffering from the childhood trauma of never having a real “Easter dress” to talk about on the elementary school playground: pink and petticoated or yellow and frilly.
My Easter dress was usually a sailor-collared getup: navy, nautical, practical. But I did get a hat — very satisfying indeed since we’d been singing Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade” in school assemblies for weeks by that point. It was a straw boater with an elastic strap that itched my chin, so I’d pull it up under my nose. Meanwhile, I’d reach around back for the pair of dangling grosgrain ribbons and chew on them until they were wet and raveled and ruined, and the sermon was over.
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For a child, surely the best part of Easter is egg dyeing, a process in which, once your mother sets out the teacups reeking of vinegar and a carton of hard-boiled eggs, you have full control. There’s the wonder of watching the dye tablets dissolve — purple, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue — blossoming into glossy, Jell-O-looking sheens. You bend the wire dipper just so, lower each egg into a dye bath, and wait vigilantly, turning them frequently, otherwise one side will be lighter and one side darker: perfection spoiled. All the while, you’re scissoring out transfer images — a cross, a lily, a bunny — and deciding what you’ll write on the naked egg with the wax crayon thoughtfully supplied by PAAS. (And should you even bother with the cartoon collar that shrinks ’round the egg when it’s submerged? Sometimes they wrinkle unattractively.) Easter eggs are a morning’s anxious labor, for sure.
Easter candy never quite lived up to Halloween or Christmas candy, either. Pink and white Good & Plentys are still just licorice. Necco Wafers and Jordan almonds fit the pastel requirement but are still just chalk and nuts. Before the gourmet varieties were invented, jelly beans were just hard candy suckers from the doctor’s office converted into egg(ish) shapes. Ignored and avoided, they sank to the bottom of the Easter basket, turned into rock-hard pellets, and rattled around like maracas. And you can keep your Peeps.
No, for the adult me, Easter is less about the decorations and the symbols than it is a nighttime service at my church called The Great Easter Vigil. A small fire burns in a brazier at the church entrance, the only light before you enter a black, unlit nave, dark and scary and soundless as a tomb. One by one, each worshiper’s small, collared candle is lit, just enough of a flame to read by. The service progresses with Scripture and the sorrowful retelling of Christ’s trial, Crucifixion, and burial. Candles are extinguished, and again, the interior is pitch-black, silent, still.
Suddenly, dramatically, the organ comes alive with the lilting trills and jubilant crescendos of Widor’s “Toccata” from Symphony No. 5. The altar bursts into view beneath bright lights, revealing scores of white flowers — lilies and roses and tulips, dogwood and mock orange and spirea — banked at the base, tumbling from and trailing over the marble, clustered at the cross. The bright white sight is breathtakingly beautiful, bountiful. In the congregation, we take out the bells we’ve brought from home, from humble clanging cowbells to tinkling silver chimes, and ring them for all we’re worth to join the joy. We’ve moved from dying to rising. From pervasive gloom to magnificent glory.
And then, in celebration, we get to go home and drink champagne.
Whether yours is secular or spiritual, Easter marks ends and beginnings. Biblically, Easter marks the end of Lent’s melancholy introspection and the beginning of new life in Resurrection. Seasonally, it marks the end of winter’s chill and the beginning of new life in the promise of spring. Because even if you’re wearing gloves and a scarf to your sunrise service — and very often, we are — that sliver of pink dawn on the horizon guarantees that green and growth and warmth are on the way. Just hold your horses with those begonias and impatiens. Mid-April, and the beginning of your garden’s glory, is near.