Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Junk that goes into Easter Baskets

Like eunuchs criticizing the Institution of Holy Matrimony, the Secular Humanists. without fail (with the possible exception of this year), make complaints about the contents of Easter Baskets. Always, they complain that Crosses, Bibles, Icons, or other items of religious significance shouldn’t be there. This is an extremely crass critique that even some Reformed Protestants would indulge in, as they would doubtless protest some of the original contents of a traditional Easter Basket as including “sin” items, in particular wine. Browsing some of the Easter Baskets for sale over the internet, I note that there are places that get a couple of the contents correct, but very accidentally. I did notice a Wine Basket and a basket with Smoked Ham, but indulgence in candy, especially chocolate, is the order of the day. Always and ever Easter Bunnies, with an occasional Easter Chick, as symbols, but never something of true religious significance, like a lamb. Horseradish is an essential component of an Easter Basket, and any Easter Basket that DOES NOT include an item with Horseradish in it is not a REAL Easter Basket, and this definitely excludes 99% of all crassly commercialized Easter Baskets.

The custom began in the Middle East, Armenia, and India to celebrate the coming of spring. This pagan celebration roughly coincided with Easter, which falls anywhere between March 22 and May 29, depending upon moon cycles and religious traditions. As it was depaganized by Eastern Orthodox Religious Tradition, “Pascha “, the Greek transliteration of “Passover” for the Hebrew word “pesach” replaced “Eostre”, a celebration of a Teutonic pagan goddess. In Western Christianity, the name evolved to “Easter”. Regrettably, “Pascha” evolved to have lewd connotation in some Teutonic cultures. Eastern Christianity more aggressively pursued the policy of making the items of an Easter Basket have more Religious Significance that Western Christianity, indeed, the Pennsylvania Dutch were the ones most responsible for the Easter Rabbit. In the West, crass commercial crept in to replace the pagan junk with secular junk. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholics do deserve some credit for their attempts to make the Easter Basket a reasonably religious item, at least significantly more credit than the Protestants. The Reformers, in their early days in America, sought to eliminate the religious Holy Days of Easter and Christmas; however, when Reformed parishoners visited Catholics and Anglicans out of curiosity during the Holy Days (Let's go see what the Catholics are doing. By the way, let's go try one of their fish dishes for lunch.), Reformed leaders realized their mistake and changed policy.

It is my contention that the Easter Basket IS a Christian religious symbol, despite its pagan origins, and has been for the last thousand years. As such, the rules governing its contents should be dictated by Christianity and the Christian community. Those who have done the most to make this Tradition viable should have the most say over it. Those Secular Humanists who aren’t interested in the Holy day (Holiday) to begin with should STAY disinterested. Note that I do not have any complaint about a non-Orthodox who intends to use the Easter Basket for its intended purpose, even if they celebrate Easter on the wrong day (April 12 instead of April 19). For my part, I have no problem with celebrating such an important day twice. A good writeup, by Dr. Phyllis Meshel Onest, can be found at: Each item in an Easter Basket, from has a meaning significant to the Faith, which I shall cover next:

Butter – Preferably from a Lamb & Flag mold. This is the Lamb of God symbol, the butter representing the Good Will of Christ.

Easter Bread – representing the Bread of Life. Invariably a sweet bread with fruit and spice. There are several variants based upon country of origin. The most used are Greek, Italian, and Russian recipes. I usually use a Finnish recipe. Often decorated with a Cross or the letters XV (XHRISTOS VOSKRESE, meaning “Christ has Risen”).

Beets with Horseradish – Beets represent the Blood of Christ. Horseradish, a bitter herb, represents Christ’s bitter innocent suffering and death. I like to use a recipe with wasabi powder, beets, balsamic vinegar, and brown sugar. In the absence of horseradish, hot sauce can do as the bitter herb.

Red Hard Boiled Eggs – represents the Resurrection.

Sausage – symbolizes God’s favor.

Ham (or lamb or veal) – symbolizes abundance.

Smoked Bacon – symbolizes the overabundance of God’s Mercy and Generosity.

Cheese – symbolizes the moderation that Christians should have in all things. This is really a special cheesecake, of which there are many good recipes. Sts. Peter & Paul Orthodox Church of New Hampshire has some notable recipes:

Salt – reminds Christians that they are the Salt of the World.

Wine(optional)- Gifts come from God.

Soap(optional)- To symbolize washing away sins.

Candle- Christ is the Light of the World.

Linen Cover – in many traditional patterns, often family heirlooms. My own pattern is the Big Dipper pointing to the North Star in the form of a Cross on a Midnight Blue field. This symbolizes both Alaska, where Orthodox Missionaries first came to America, and the fact that the Orthodox Easter Service usually starts at 11:30 PM and lasts till 3 AM. As Mariners have used the North Star to guide them, Christ is the Star that Guides us.

I recognize that I sprinkled some extra Hot Sauce on my words for this editorial. I do get grouchy about the secular spoiling of an otherwise good Holy Day. I also get grouchy at Christmas for the same reason. St. Nicholas has written me a letter about it. (OK, I forged it, but it would still be his thoughts if he did send me a letter, which I will probably show this Christmas.)

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