Easter: Christmas Without The Fuss…
If the idea of spending five days in a Norwegian ski lodge, eating smoked salmon and reading crime fiction makes you feel as sick as a (possibly dead) parrot pining for the fjords, then stay at home this Easter.
With apologies to Monty Python fans, this is how Easter’s celebrated in Norway and, frankly, I'm already researching cheap flights to Oslo. For a start, the shops close for the whole five days and all advertisements, except for charity ones, are banned from television.
And uniquely, everyone celebrates Easter with their favourite crime writer. This is when the entire Norwegian nation heads for their holiday home to curl up with the likes of Miss Marple, Wexford or Wallander. Throughout the week, every newspaper, television and radio station will carry Paskekrimmen (Easter thrillers); whodunnits are even serialised on milk cartons.
Dickens (whose novels first appeared in instalments in magazines), would surely have approved. I understand now why he didn't set A Christmas Carol at Easter: there wouldn’t have been enough for Scrooge to complain about. The sort of curmudgeon who positively enjoys finding things to criticise in December – the over-indulgence, the expense, the hype, not to mention the relatives – would probably award nul points to Norway for their wonderfully low-key Easter.
However (and wherever) you choose to spend it, Easter, quite simply, does just what it says on the chocolate tin. Lurid yellow chicks and bucket-sized caramel eggs aside, Easter is Christmas without the ballyhoo. Don't tell my daughters, but I'm with Scrooge… I actually prefer Easter to Christmas.
My friend Alison, a primary school teacher, admits that Easter is also much more rewarding to teach.
“Easter is about blood and guts and the children can't get enough,” she tells me. “One child gets to play the donkey while the others throw their jumpers (representing palms) at him and his rider. They love washing each other's feet and seeing their misdemeanours 'disappear' when the blackboard is wound round (illustrating forgiveness). Then Peter gets his ear sliced off… whether or not it holds religious significance for children, they love the drama.
Christmas, by contrast, starts as soon as the kids are back after October half term and by the time it actually arrives, they've done it all. “One child blurts out that Father Christmas is his Grandpa, while some mother wonders why little Jonny, with his tattoo and ear-ring, didn't get to play Mary. Everyone is bored, run-down and confused between Santa and Jesus, and that's just the teachers!”
Even members of the clergy often prefer Easter. Arderne Gillies, minister of Chorleywood Free Church, admits that being asked every December 'Is this is a busy time for you?' drives her nuts, as does the pretence that goodwill always prevails.
“There's this ghastly expectation that everything at Christmas has to be perfect, the food, the traditions, the relatives, but we don't have these expectations of Easter,” she explains. “It’s a lovely way to bring families together and people don't argue at Easter like they do at Christmas.”
There's no excessive build-up to Easter, no queues for the supermarket car park and while Friday fish and Sunday lamb are traditional, there's very little 'food fascism' dictating what we should eat.
I also find the Easter church services more meaningful than the often 'twee' Christmas services, with the solemnity of Good Friday balanced by the bright flowers and joyful hymns on Sunday. Even 'traditions' such as colouring eggs or making baskets, are optional – though I wouldn't mind adopting an Eastern European habit of giving the cook a day off by eating cold food on Easter Sunday!
Writer Catherine Fox, whose novels are set in a fictional cathedral city, tells me that she makes the effort to attend the 5am candlelit vigil at Lichfield Cathedral each Easter Sunday because it's so moving. She finds this a positive time, setting what she describes as 'the big Yes against all the painful Nos that accumulate as life goes on'.
“There's no razzamatazz, the daffodils are out and spring will come, whatever I do,” she says.
As for me, I’m all for curling up in front of a log fire with a good book. There’s just no time for that on Christmas Day…