British Studies Web Pages

Festivals in Britain


An English Easter - Childhood Memories

This article has been written by Neil Smith who has taught English in Poland for almost two years. He will experience a Polish Easter for the first time this year..

An English Easter: Childhood Memories.

Like a lot of the English I first encountered the 'true' message of Easter at Primary school. An understanding of the traditions was woven into our routine and as I remember, the teachers really tried to get across the sense of occasion and meaning of Easter. But, like most children at that age, Easter's spiritual meaning was not quite as up lifting as the chance to mess around painting, performing and preparing special Easter foods to take home and inflict on my poor family.

Of all the school activities I think blowing eggs was my particular favourite. I may have been young but this was definitely not child's play. A hole had to be made at either end of the egg and then a brave, or stupid, volunteer put their lips round the end and blew…HARD! To give you a sense of the effort, imagine the effort to suck a certain 'Clown's' milkshake, reverse the process and double the effort. It was THAT hard. But too much effort and you would literally have egg on your face and a smell that didn't make you friends. The trick was not to apply too much lip pressure and remember to BLOW and NOT to suck. Sucking was not a good idea. Raw egg before P.E. could spell disaster for the newly polished gym floor and any chance of impressing the girls. After the blowing had achieved an empty shell it was time to get out the paints and create various delightful 'designs' for the shell. These were usually wild, imaginative and completely irrelevant to Easter. But, even after all that blowing and filth, sitting in a group and listening to the teacher tell stories about Easter and Jesus was still a thrilling experience - Christian or not.

At home Easter for me was different. Jesus was hardly talked about apart from the odd angry word! No, the real meaning of Easter at home was…CHOCOLATE! Lots of it. Christmas time had toys and Christmas cake but Easter was a time for all things chocolate. I suppose it’s a symptom of a society that doesn't celebrate spiritually that food becomes the star to cherish. So it was, and is, with Easter. But Easter's little delicacy: the chocolate Easter egg has a nasty surprise for a child's first. On the shelves of what seems like every shop, the eggs look so big and tempting all wrapped in shiny foil and neatly displayed in big, colourful display boxes. 'WOW! All that chocolate!' I thought. 'I want one of those.' Only there wasn't much chocolate. Because, as I ripped it apart to get a to all that brown sweetness I suddenly realised that that huge egg that promised so much chocolate was just a shell, and most of my money had gone towards paying for…air; absolutely nothing. Even the different makes of egg use the same make of chocolate for the shell, the only difference between one and another is a secret, plain plastic bag filled with depressingly miniature sweets from that particular brand.

For a young chocolate lover it was like discovering Santa doesn't exist and that storks aren't 'responsible' for babies. But at least with storks you find out you're in for some fun when you are older! But this…this was literally NOTHING. And it was an expensive nothing at that!

That first time I discovered the chocolate shell was empty, I began to see the 'true' meaning of Easter in England (And Christmas for that matter): the seasonal tradition of…SHOPPING! Truly religious traditions don’t make money. In fact they mostly advocate the opposite with warmth, care, spending less and appreciating small, homemade gifts. But exploiting the idea of Easter to sell decorated cards, decorated pens and appropriately decorated sweets is the real 'festival'. And Easter eggs are the epitome for this 20th century obsession: taking an old, rural symbol, making it sickly sweet, glossy, tempting yet hollow and adding a suitably expensive price tag.

From my experience any truly religious sentiment is locked tightly away in Churches and a few televised ceremonies dispersed between James Bond movies and adverts trying to sell you all things Easter. Of course children's television still harks back to the innocent 'art' of egg blowing and Jesus but hands-on traditions are mainly the conserve of the primary school classroom. Once education is cast off and you are handling your own cash, your 'spiritual' duty soon becomes clear. Spend.

Wishful thinking and ideals of the spiritual are all very well as long as they get your hands in your pockets. If not, they are considered extreme for getting in the way of buying the right cards and the right Easter products.

How would I sum up Easter traditions in England? From my experience they're in the child's realm of fantasy and fun or else that of the TEFL classroom putting across the correct traditions that England sees fit to present to foreigners. In the real world Jesus and egg blowing are considered unworthy in themselves but worthy if they kick start our economic duty in this brave, new 'real' world: our duty to shop.

So, dig deep, do your duty and get spending. What are you waiting for? Xmas?

Happy Easter!

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.