by Stuart Littlewood
First published 16 April 2022
Forget Ukraine for a moment. Easter is a time to focus on the Holy Land, what happened there in AD33 or whatever date you believe to have been Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and what’s happening there now. It’s not pretty.
The place is awash with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the indigenous Muslim and Christian population by (mostly) east European invaders with no ancestral claim. Western governments aren’t loudly demanding investigations by the International Criminal Court… but mention Putin and Ukraine and they go ballistic.
Meanwhile, Easter in the UK is all about bunnies and searching for chocolate eggs. What Easter message do kids get from that? They’re lavished with eggs and other treats whether they’ve been good or not.
Eggs of course are an ancient fertility symbol and became associated with Christianity to represent rebirth. In medieval times eating eggs was prohibited during Lent but people gave children eggs as a special treat just before the fasting began. They were often hand-decorated or boiled with vegetables to make them colourful.
The ‘Easter bunny’ traditionally originated with a hare which was said to be the sacred creature of a Saxon goddess of Spring called Eastre. But the popularity of Peter Rabbit is due to the bedtime story character called Peter Cottontail dreamed up by American author Thornton Burgess in his ‘Old Mother West Wind’ series around 1910. Peter Rabbit changes his surname to Cottontail for a while to make himself sound more important but later drops it. How Peter Rabbit morphed into the Easter Bunny, giving the poor hare the elbow, isn’t entirely clear. But the prodigious reproduction rate of rabbits, producing large litters of ‘kittens’, turned them into a fertility symbol too; and as there were so many of them they became the army of egg deliverers rewarding supposedly well-behaved children at Easter-time.
It doesn’t surprise me in the least to hear that there’s an app which allows kids to call the Easter Bunny for a “sweet phone conversation” and so they can “score major cool parent points for having the Easter Bunny phone number”. If you buy the posh version of the app you can get the Easter Bunny to call you…. beyond cool then.
At the serious end of the Easter scale, while in Ramallah I watched the ‘Bringing of the Fire’, an Easter tradition among the churches of Palestine. On Holy Saturday, the day before Orthodox Easter, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem enters the tomb of the Holy Sepulchre. After a moment of prayer, he emerges with the Holy Fire which, every year, is emitted from Christ’s tomb. This is passed on by candle to the gathered faithful and spontaneously lights up the whole church as if by magic.
From there, with shouts of “Christ is risen”, the Holy Fire symbolising the miracle of resurrection is spread to all the churches of this land, taken to Greece and spread to all countries having a significant Greek Orthodox presence throughout the world – including Ukraine. In Ramallah it involved a seemingly endless, colourful and noisy parade of young and old with much trumpet-blowing and drum banging, a good time being had by all…. within the cruel apartheid limits imposed by a vicious military occupation.
15 April 2022
After working on jet fighters in the RAF Stuart became an industrial marketing specialist with manufacturing companies and consultancy firms. He also “indulged himself” as a newspaper columnist. In politics, he served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and member of the Police Authority. Now retired he campaigns on various issues and contributes to several online news & opinion sites. An Associate of the Royal Photographic Society, he has produced two photo-documentary books which can be read online at Radiofreepalestine.org.uk and Paperturn-view.com