David Behrens: We and our American cousins are like chocolate and cheese

The Scouts have been hit by a shortage of volunteers.
The Scouts have been hit by a shortage of volunteers.
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IF LAST week’s unholy row about the use of the word Easter in the context of a chocolate egg hunt demonstrated anything, it is that we have in this country an uneasy grasp on how, or what, we should be celebrating this weekend.

It was the Archbishop of York who set the Easter egg rolling, by complaining that the National Trust and its sponsor, Cadbury, had diluted the religious significance of the festival by omitting the salient word from the title of its annual children’s event. Cadbury’s founder, a Quaker, would be turning in his grave, the Archbishop suggested.

I think it’s fair to assume, given Cadbury’s is now under American ownership and that its latest products include chocolate-flavoured Philadelphia soft cheese, that Mr Cadbury Sr is already spinning like a well-done rotisserie chicken.

I like Cadbury’s chocolate and I don’t mind the odd slither of Philadelphia, but I don’t want them on the same plate, or even on the same day. Perhaps if I lived in America, where cheese comes in aerosol cans and blue Pop Tarts pass for a snack, I might be less highly-strung about it.

My generation of baby boomers 
used to look up to Americans, because they launched men into space and filled their homes with material
 goods our shops did not sell. Their prosperity gave us hope for our own future.

They also knew how to embrace Easter: while we stuffed ourselves with chocolate, they bought new outfits and paraded in their thousands down Fifth Avenue. Ladies wore elaborate hats and held contests to find the best one. We still do that here, but only at York and Doncaster races, when the Champagne tent is open.

My own Easters, I was reminded on Monday, when the Scouts appealed for volunteers, were taken up almost entirely by the ritual of bob-a-job week, a tradition abandoned a generation ago, when the practice of dispatching young boys to the homes of strangers no longer seemed a good idea. In the 1960s, the priority was simply to get the kids out of your own house and from under your feet.

Off we went, equipped with a sheet of yellow “job done” stickers to paste inside customers’ windows, in the full knowledge that they were impossible to remove without the application of half a bottle of vinegar. It was said that some Scouts’ job weeks were spent cleaning up the remnants of the previous year’s stickers.

That pretty much sums up the black-and-white Britain of my youth – we didn’t have much, but my goodness, we didn’t want for vinegar.

The only concession to Easter
 itself was a chocolate egg and a hot cross bun, on to which you had to spread butter that was either close to rancid because it had not been in the fridge, or endowed with the consistency of plywood because 
it had.

I did not know what exactly was going on during the same week in America, but I felt sure that it involved Walt Disney, bottomless glasses of Coca-Cola and TV programmes in colour. As children, we made those assumptions because we saw the US only through the filters of the film studios and TV networks, part of whose role it was to burnish the country’s image abroad.

Today, the lenses of a million smartphones beamed direct to the internet expose the US in a more naked and wholly unflattering light: a society that values excess more than success, quantity more than quality, and thinks it is normal to flavour cheese with chocolate.

Yet it is also a God-fearing place in which Christians are twice as likely than we in Britain to roll up at church on a Sunday. Not for them the politically correct ambiguity of an egg hunt that doesn’t mention Easter; 
they would have the word up there 
in letters the size of the ones on a Trump hotel.

I deplore the formulaic box-ticking that passes for inclusivity in Britain these days, but I would rather enjoy the disorganised pleasure of an unnamed chocolate hunt in the woods this weekend than all the Coca-Cola at all the soda fountains in Disneyland.

Whether or not we choose to acknowledge the religious significance, we can take some comfort as a nation from having retained our sense of perspective.