Neil McNicholas: Why it was wrong to take religion out of Easter

Father Neil McNicholas has bemoaned a shortage of religious-themed Easter cards.Father Neil McNicholas has bemoaned a shortage of religious-themed Easter cards.
Father Neil McNicholas has bemoaned a shortage of religious-themed Easter cards.
WAS it just last year that the Great Cadbury Attack took place when the Archbishop of York took the chocolate manufacturer to task for dropping the word Easter from its advertising material for its Easter egg hunts at National Trust properties?

Just as there has been no Brexit, apparently there has been no Breggsit either, no furore over the devaluation of Easter by the neutralising of chocolate eggs.

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Not quite. I have had my own little furore over the total absence, at least in the shops I have visited this year, of religious-themed Easter cards. The nearest I could find had pictures of churches, or crosses made of flowers, 
but none with any direct reference
to the resurrection of Christ – which is what the celebration of Easter is all about, after all.

A First World War communion card for Easter.A First World War communion card for Easter.
A First World War communion card for Easter.

Flowers are all very nice and
spring-like, as are rabbits and lambs, but they have no connection with the spiritual meaning of Easter. Eggs do, as symbols of new life, but how many people buying Easter cards with eggs on them, or even buying chocolate eggs themselves, will make that connection? Not even Cadbury, I suspect.

It’s bad enough that at Christmas it is getting increasingly difficult to find religious-themed cards, but at least you still can. However not to be able to find appropriately-designed Easter cards on what is arguably the greatest of the two Christian feasts is a sad reflection on the increasingly secular nature of our society, and the apparent priorities of ill-informed card manufacturers. And so for the first time ever, I found myself emailing apologies to friends to whom I would ordinarily have sent Easter cards explaining this sad situation.

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The name of Christ being part of the word Christmas is an obvious target for the secularists and humanists who would rather not be reminded of what the celebration going on around them, and without them, is actually all about. Also the political correctness brigade will point to the risk of offending non-Christians even though no offence has been taken. But when it comes to the word Easter there isn’t actually anything overtly Christian in the word itself to offend anyone in the first place.

It is thought it comes from the name of a pagan goddess whose feast day was around this time of year and somehow it became attached to the Christian celebration which perhaps ought to be more correctly called “paschaltide” – the word “pasch” relating to the Jewish feast of Passover which has been celebrated around this time of the year for thousands of years and which Jesus himself was keeping with his disciples when he was arrested and crucified – giving rise (literally in terms of his resurrection) to our Christian celebration.

One thing that no one seems to be offended by each year is the expectation of a few days off work at Easter, but, like Christmas, why does that expectation persist as strongly as ever when belief in the reason for it doesn’t? Also, if you check your diary, or the electronic equivalent, there will probably be a reference to it being a Bank Holiday. A what? We all understand the word holiday, but how many people still know what a bank is? When was the last time one graced your local high street, and how many are still open in order to provide people with the convenience of local banking services let alone to be able to take a holiday?

Every time I go into my local branch 
I’m reluctant to ask why they only ever have one or two tellers actually working, while two or three others are doing anything but, when the people queuing to the door waiting to be served will be distinctly older by the time they leave than they were when they came in. I’m afraid the response might be: “We’re
sick of people moaning and complaining, who do you think you are – customers? That’s it, we’re closing the branch!” 
That might be all it would take and
so I say nothing. I’m sure they’ll be
closed for Easter, but will anyone even notice?

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By the time you are reading this column, I hope as many of you as possible will have had a wonderful celebration of Easter and that, buoyed up by the hope and encouragement that the celebration is all about, you will return to your work and to your daily routines spiritually refreshed and uplifted. It doesn’t matter how much of a chocoholic you might be, Easter eggs won’t do that for you, but I suppose there’s no harm in trying! Happy Easter.

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.