I spent the first three posts this year posing as a travel blog, and had intended the next three being a history of Berry blog. UNTIL…. my very clever and savvy daughter pointed this out to me.
‘You’re not a history blog, Mum. People get sick of history!’
Well. That there just took the wind out of my sails – I was Endeavouring to enliven the story of our past for the purpose of Enlightening the likes of exactly her! What is the youth of today coming to?
‘Well, what do you think I should write about this week’ I enquired of my bloguru.
‘Easter, Mum! ’.
‘I thought I wasn’t allowed to ‘do’ another history blog – Easter was LAST MONTH!’
With the website being down, I’ve got all out of whack, but that hardly explains India’s suggestion. I had however, prepared a blog post with an Easter theme and at the risk of losing all of you right here right now, I’ve done an edit job so as A. not to waste it, B. not to waste the bloguru, and C. because it’s a nice foreword to my great reveal – that I’m The Cross Lady.
So let’s get on with Easter….
I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking how absolutely bizarre it is that at this time of year, when we commemorate the pretty gruesome murder of and consequent resurrection of someone we culturally believe to be the son of God, we give each other brightly wrapped chocolate eggs reportedly delivered by a beneficent bunny.
On the surface of things, every bit of that situation is discombobulating (such a great word – say it out loud – confusing, right?)
I guess it can also be said that Christmas is equally bizarre when we entrust the celebration of the birth of the same guy, Jesus Christ, to another fat, old guy dressed up in a red suit who, along with a full herd of reindeer led by one with a bright red nose (hello? he was always going to be named Rudolf), lands on our rooftop so he can squeeze his fat self down a chimney we may or may not have, depending on where you live, and deliver us presents.
‘Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen, on Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen…’
Back to Easter.
So I started doing a bit of reading – shameful that at the grand old age of 52, I even had to. Had I been brought up in a more devout environment, instead of the irreverent rabble that is my beloved family, I would have been taught all of this at Sunday school.
More on that later….
What I discovered first and foremost is that many of the Easter traditions actually predate Christ. (If that’s not weird?)
Easter derives its name from Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring who was celebrated during the month of April, for obvious reasons if you live in the northern hemisphere – ie, it being springtime then. The month of April was known Eostremonat, and as the resurrection of Christ happened to be roughly around that time (most years), then it just sort of adopted the name Easter.
There’s a nice economy there, don’t you agree?
Now what might a Goddess of Spring happen to embody – any guesses? Yup. Fertility. And what might be the key symbol of fertility? Yup. An egg. This alone does not adequately explain it though, does it.
In medieval times, the eating of eggs was forbidden during lent, but ignorant, heathen chooks laid them during this time regardless, and those eggs were boiled or preserved in other ways (yuck) and were gorged on once the masses were given the green light.
This makes perfect sense now – what would you choose: an old boiled egg, or one that has been embalmed – or a delicious Belle Fleur chocolate one?
I think we can call this Progress.
But what about the bunny???
So if we go back to the fertility bit?? You with me??? That’s right, rabbits are very busy, romantically speaking.
In fact, it was the Germans we can thank for this particular part of the story – they used to tell their children that a hare laid the eggs for the children to find on Easter Sunday. Mumie and Papa were very inventive coming up with that particular distraction for a Sunday morning – nudge, nudge.
But then these deluded kids grew up and moved to Pennsylvania, USA to spread the word about the bunny, and the yanks bought it.
Now we all tell our kids that it’s the Easter Bunny who brings/lays the foil wrapped and colourful chocolate eggs.
We are a culture of big fat liars.
Now that Easter is well and truly passed and Mother’s Day is hurling itself towards us, you’ve probably totally lost interest and now actually just have a bit of a craving for a piece of chocky.
But I did feel that I needed to do some enlightening and I’m very grateful if you’ve made it this far.
Shall I enlighten you further and tell you something about me?
I have posed as both a Father Christmas and an Easter Bunny (not sure which is the least flattering) but don’t hold that against me. I needed to lie to my children – they needed to have something to fear in their super indulged and pampered lives, when I didn’t even let them walk to school (I did once, and I followed at an indiscernible distance, just to be sure they were safe. May I add, we’re talking not quite a kilometre in a pretty sleepy inner west suburb of Sydney – not Islamabad).
I used to threaten them that if they didn’t behave, I’d call Father Christmas. On the phone.
Terrible, I know.
But here comes the Easter segue…
The thing I do want to tell you is that I have a very strange predilection – that is, it’s strange for someone who is not ‘religious’ but not at all strange for someone who lies to her children….
My predilection, if I can call it that, is for crosses. I think I’ve got more than the Catholic Church (of which I am not a member), which is really quite saying something. If you’ve ever darkened the door of a Catholic church, you’d catch my drift.
My sister once gave me a fully fledged – legit (to use the vernacular) priest’s cross – a stainless steel crucifix (stainless? question mark? why?). I felt overwhelmed with the desire to give it back, which of course I did not. I gushed with feigned gratitude, as you do.
I never told her how I felt, how do you tell someone something you’ve failed to articulate even to yourself? In fact, she may be discovering this right here right now along with the rest of you loyal buggers still reading (or maybe she tuned out back with the Easter history – she is India’s aunt after all).
My problem with an actual priest’s cross, apart from wondering whatever happened to the priest (done or dead), was that it was imbued with religion in its very fibre – I mean you couldn’t get something more imbued with religion, could you?
As much as I understood and appreciated my sister’s intention to give me something that she thought I’d really value, instead it made me feel as though I was commodifying that which had a very different, religious purpose. It felt sacrilegious, blasphemous, ungodly… which is really quite something coming from a not-religious person.
I put it away in a drawer and you know what? I’ve still got it – I’ve always meant to gift it to a newbie priest, only I don’t ever seem to meet any. I can’t just bowl into a church swinging the thing, asking if anyone wants it. And I can hardly advertise it – how would the ad read? ‘Unwanted gift – priest’s crucifix’ – I could end up with hate mail.
So apart from that little faux-pas in my collection – that spur in my side…
I have a cross made of bailing wire and another made of fake grass. I have two Coptic crosses, one from the Vatican (oops), a couple of brightly coloured Mexican ones with bottle tops adorning them. I have cast iron crosses that were once a part of wrought iron fencing. I have two I bought in Greece, and I really wanted to salvage one from a field in France – until I realised it was no ordinary field, if you get my drift. Yup. Cemetery.
When I was in Perth last week, I saw a hot pink polystyrene one on the council clean up that would have been 6 feet tall and probably from a school play. I was seriously tempted, and I’m sure Virgin Airlines would have understood…
Then there are the countless crosses I wear around my neck, in my ears, on my fingers. I drip in crosses – and whenever I am asked – WHY – I don’t really have an answer. I just like them.
How can you get so in to a simple symbol? Well the truth is, there was never a point in my history when I thought, ‘I know, I’m going to collect crosses’. It was not even a conscious beginning to my collection, though it has become very conscious as my collection grows and people think I’m weird.
I even bought a book recently, a novel called Tongues of Men or Angels, because I thought the cover looked so interesting – the words of the title are fitted into a cross shape. I’m not sure if you really can judge a book by its cover, but you certainly can judge a cover by its cover. I haven’t, as yet, read the book, but I’m sure it will be Enlightening. (there’s that word again – maybe I could lend it to India – she’s an angel with a tongue…)
I hope I’m making myself clear – I mean I hope you understand that in collecting crosses, I am not looking for any divine intervention in my life, no angels to comfort me, no short cut through the pearly gates – ‘get out of the way Peter, I’m the cross woman….’
I think I do believe in a God, because I see so much beauty in the world. I see wonder and I see an enormity I have no better way to fathom. I do not believe in a God who will strike me down, as my mother once said he would because I got my dress dirty (she was over it – 4 kids under 7 does that). I don’t believe either in a God who demands my Sunday morning, that is mine alone.
I hope there might be a God, I hope that there might be an author to a bigger plan than I see – war, hatred, fear, poverty, cruelty, global warming, cheap wine. I hope that as much as humanity suffers, that we find it in ourselves to always forge forward, do better, evolve and improve – and keep our hope alive.
I hope for a God who makes sure the All Blacks triumph again at the World Cup this year.
Though you probably don’t.
If you see this as ‘confusion’, you could be right. When we were kids, my sisters and I were put in our best dresses, white hats and little wee gloves and we were taken down to All Saints church in Norfolk Street, Belmont – in Lower Hutt, NZ, every Sunday morning. There we would sit dutifully throughout the family service, and then we kids would peel off for a Sunday school sesh.
I remember nothing of Sunday school. Big impact guys.
But I do remember my little brother, who was the most beautiful, clever little boy with huge brown eyes (then he grew up and got pimples. Now he’s ok). My mother, who was and is still a pretty groovy chick, often dressed her only son in black: black trousers, a black, home-spun wool jumper, and black or red Jumping Jacks shoes. It was 1970 and Ben was a toddler pin up boy – but he wasn’t exactly warmly welcomed at church.
He was – how shall I put it – unpredictable at aged 3 or 4.
One morning, as we all sat bored out of our tiny brains (which were squashed into our even tinier white hats) in the front pews of the church while the old minister droned on, Ben, quite out of character, paid attention.
During one particularly lengthy dramatic pause in the endless sermon, Ben politely (also out of character) raised his little arm and asked in the loud, clear voice of the innocent, ‘Who’s God?”
I remember the noises of the congregation shifting – and shifting, and the rest of us kids craning around to see what the shuffling and choking sounds were all about. I remember my mother’s contorted face, her eyes watering, her lips disappearing between her biting lips…
We didn’t go much to Sunday school after that. I think my family got a reputation.
So from a childhood where God was not exactly familiar, to a house full of crosses, is quite a journey. Perhaps I’ve always just desperately needed to conform, perhaps I’ve always just wanted a normal brother who didn’t put everyone on the spot so publicly, so young. Interestingly, he’s now a criminal barrister – need I say more?
Or maybe moments like this, so warmly remembered by my family, are what circulates in the ether around my crosses. Perhaps it’s a history of culture, of community, of civilisation, or uncivilisation – that continues to intrigue and entice me.
Or maybe it is that I really am just weird.
But you can see now, I hope, that I did need to cover off the Easter piece – as my totem, the cross, is pretty central to that whole story. And you know what? Life’s best stories are the weird ones.
ps, if you know of a newbie priest who’d love a hand-me-down cross, let me know. I’m sure we can come to an ‘arrangement’.