by Linda Ryan
I remember being told when I was younger that as you get older time goes by faster. It used to be the three months of summer vacation from school flew by. It hardly seemed like I had gotten out of school in the middle of June when it was time to go back again after Labor Day. Now the same period of time drags a little, mainly because of the heat here in Arizona, but it still seems to go fairly quickly when I look back on it. It’s because I’m getting older I guess, but I wonder what has programmed to me to feel this way? Another mystery I have to investigate.
For instance, here it is, the middle of April, and I’m wondering why it feels like Christmas was just last week. I like Christmas, and it seems like lots of other people like Christmas too because all through December, while my denomination celebrates Advent and tries to avoid saying “Christmas” in terms of greetings, the world, even non-Christians, will often greet one another with “Merry Christmas.”
There has been talk for years that there is what they call, “War on Christmas,” where allegedly people are discouraged from using the word “Christmas” and especially “Merry Christmas,” and encouraged to be a little more diversified, like “Happy Holidays,” which, at least, has the intimation of covering all celebrations occurring in the time roughly between Christmas Day and New Year’s and a bit beyond. It really isn’t a war on Christmas. People say it all the time, in fact they say it usually for the whole month of December up until December 25. After December 25 world cuts out Christmas and goes on to Happy New Year. By Christmas Eve at midnight, the stores are already filling up with Valentine cards and what have you. Christmas Day? It’s over, let’s move on.
In a church which believes in the 12 days of Christmas ending on Epiphany on January 6, this can be somewhat discouraging. We are just getting started with the celebration of Christmas when everybody else is finished. We don’t hear Christmas carols for us; we heard them during Advent, but that’s only on the radio, in the stores, and in a lot of churches. We never hear them in our church, not until December 24th. There are other denominations that are the same. Yet still come December 25th, we seldom hear “Merry Christmas” for the full 12 days of the season.
But how about the season that we’re in now, the Easter season? During Holy Week, the week preceding Easter, people will accept a greeting of “Happy Easter,” and Easter cards, endless candy and chocolate rabbits and even chocolate crosses are presented to be consumed beginning on Easter Sunday, some of it allegedly given by the Easter Bunny. But Easter Sunday, like Christmas Day, cuts off for the rest of the world and we keep going.
Easter for us is a season of 50 days, lasting up until Pentecost which is about the end of May. Like Christmas, though, we don’t really use the phrase “Happy Easter” after Easter Sunday. I wonder why that is? We don’t say it the week before because we have to go through the progression of Holy Week with the adulation on Palm Sunday, focus on Judas on Tenebrae, foot washing and the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion and entombment of Christ on Good Friday, the waiting of Holy Saturday, and then finally on Saturday night and Sunday morning we celebrate Easter like the biggest birthday party ever. The Sunday after Easter is often called “Low Sunday” for a reason. People often feel that they’ve gotten their church ticket punched during Holy Week and Easter Sunday and that makes them good until Christmas. But nobody really says “Happy Easter, even this close to the day. We still have, what, six more weeks of Easter season? Why aren’t we saying “Happy Easter” more often, and not just saving it for one special occasion?
During Lent and the rest of the church year, Easter is commemorated every Sunday. We celebrate a little Easter, we remember that the resurrection came on a Sunday, and we sort of go through a bit of Holy Week every Sunday morning in our liturgy. There is a procession, not necessarily waving palms, when the ministers enter the church and remind us of the procession into Jerusalem. We move on to the Eucharist which is the celebration of Jesus giving us his body and blood from the Maundy Thursday celebration. And then, like Christ arising from the tomb, we’re sent out into the world to take the light and the message to the world itself. You know, though, we still don’t say, “Happy Easter.”
Maybe it’s a picky one thing. I mean, in the greater scheme of things, how important is it that we say “Happy Easter” ? For that matter, how important is it that we say “Merry Christmas”? Or “Happy Hanukkah” (although we do it during the 8 days of Hanukkah, oddly enough). Or even using a specific greeting for Kwanzaa or any of the other religious celebrations that focus around that same time, and believe me, there’s a lot more than one or two. So why is important for us to remember to say “Happy Easter”?
I think for me it’s the recognition that we are still in a celebratory period. We are Easter people, and this is our season. Granted, Christmas is important, because if Jesus hadn’t been born, we would not have Easter in the first place, or at least Easter as we know it. The idea is putting something out into the world with words that people can hear. Granted probably 90 people out of 100 will be thinking a person saying “Happy Easter” at toward the end of May is probably really weird. Never mind that the Orthodox are quite often week behind us on Easter, so we have a legitimate reason for saying it to all our Orthodox brothers and sisters even after we, like the stores, have packed up Easter and started to move on towards whatever comes next.
What if we actually said Happy Easter” to someone? Maybe it would prompt them to ask us why, and, there’s our chance for some evangelism because we could tell them precisely why.
This week I think I’m going to try saying it to somebody. I may start off small, like my next-door neighbor, a devout Christian lady, who might be curious as to why I’m saying that. Of course, if she reads this, she’ll know why, but still, after I do something once it’s a lot easier to do something a second time. I may use it with my Education for Ministry groups this week, just see how they react.
He is risen, the focus message of Easter and all the little Easters that come after it. We celebrate it all year, so why not use the phrase at least during the official liturgical season? It might give us an opportunity to do a little evangelism? Maybe it would be a turnoff for some, who knows? It might just open some conversational doors. This week I’m going to try it. May I invite you to do the same? We can always give it up at Pentecost, and Christmas will be here before you know it.
God bless – and Happy Easter!
Image: By Jan Kameníček (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons