Easter Sunday in America is a mystery. A bite-the-ears-off-the-chocolate-bunny while celebrating spiritual rebirth kind of mystery. I learned this in my first year of school in the United States when I was 5 years old.
It was kindergarten, and the children in my class were whispering about Easter baskets, jelly beans, dyed eggs, and 12-inch tall bunnies made of chocolate. I listened in fascination, images of baskets taller than me piled high with sugary treats that crunched against my teeth danced before my eyes. I knew what I was going to do as soon as that bell rang and we were out for a week-long Easter break: like the wind, I would run home and tell my Colombian grandmother a phrase she had been hearing a lot that year, "There's something else we don't know about America!"
Ever since I started school I had been the one to come in bursting through the front doors with news of all that we had to do if we were going to keep on living here in the United States. I had been the one to report on turkeys -- not chickens -- for a holiday known as Thanksgiving. My orders regarding Halloween and "tricker tree" and required costumes had been delivered just this past October.
And now... Easter baskets? My buckle shoes slapped against the sidewalk pavement as I tore down the block and a half from home to school. I arrived breathless, no time to lose! "Abuelita! Grandmother! We need to buy baskets and fill them with candy and you have to hide them so we have to look for them and then tell us it was a rabbit that came to our house! On Easter Sunday!"
"Easter Sunday? On the day of our Lord's rising? Que?" I could tell this would be a problem for my grandmother, I knew she could do it -- but I had to find an angle to tie it to our Lord arising from the tomb.
"Just a walk to the store and we can do what the American families are doing, Abuelita!"
This might work, except for the very big difference that it is GOOD FRIDAY that my Colombian family went all out for, not Easter Sunday.
Oh, my family can do Good Friday up right. We keep that day solemn. There is quiet observance, respectful voices, limited use of electricity. We are subdued in clothing and manner all in reenactment of the drama of Holy Week. It's not a sad time, but a time of hushed anticipation for those like the kind of little girl that I was: in love with the heart ache of penance and humility. Walking the Stations of the Cross, kneeling before each Passion of Christ one by one, reading and hearing of Jesus' arduous climb to His final stop on Mount Calvary -- words here cannot do justice to the mystical experience that was for a young child.
In my home growing up, the concept of separation of church and state was unknown. The whole world was walking in Jesus' footsteps from Thursday through Sunday, weren't we? That's how I saw it in my mind. La Semana Santa, Holy Week, when we commemorate and memorialize Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. I knew the timetable by heart: on Thursday, our Lord was arrested. On Friday, He was crucified. On Saturday, we wept. On Sunday, He rose again.
On Good Friday, my five siblings and I would wrap ourselves in flat sheets and tie oversize belts around our waists. We would put on our older sisters' long brunette wigs and drag our feet, hunched over, across the kitchen floor, bearing brooms on our bent over backs. No one stopped us. I don't think there was ever a time that a group of children were more in the moment than we were during our Holy Week dramatizations.
Our reenactments were luscious and no parody. Our scenes were complete with wiping the sweat off the brow from whomever was lucky enough to star in the coveted role of Jesus.
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts...," so Shakespeare tells us. But I would go on to say this, "And one man in his time plays many parts, but none felt more honored than a child imagining taking on -- just for a martyred few seconds across a small kitchen floor -- Jesus' pain."
I convinced our grandmother to make our baskets, perhaps she was more wanting to please us than a believer in plastic green grass. That Easter Sunday, baskets were filled and hidden, and all found within the morning. By noon, foil wrappers of chocolate eggs littered our living room floor. And then, that was it. I mulled the morning's activities as I licked the sugar of anise flavored jelly beans from my teeth. The mood had been exciting, for awhile, but then everything felt flat. Yes, Americans do have Easter Sunday baskets of jelly beans buried in shredded plastic green grass. But for me, a little girl of 5 years old to be able to pretend on one soul stirring day a year, that she was carrying even an ounce of back breaking weight in her beloved Jesus' name, well, really... bitten off chocolate bunny ears and foil wrapped eggs paled in comparison.