A British Easter and the established religion

Easter’s creeping up on us and I’m living in an officially Christian country, which can be a strange experience for this Jewish atheist from the U. S. of no established religion A. In the U.S., I got used to people at least nodding once or twice in the direction of diverse beliefs. Even if those nods were sometimes more form than content, they were better than no nods at all.

Here, at least in rural Cornwall, spring brings Easter and only Easter—a solemn time of year when people gorge on chocolate and, in our village at least, kids roll eggs down a hill. For some people it’s a religious holiday, but for many it’s all chocolate, all the time. Still, religious or not, it is Easter. Almost everyone for miles in any direction, including up, down, and out to sea, is from a Christian background. Religious or not, the Christian holidays are part of their landscape.

Semi-relevant photo: A rhododendron, getting ready to bloom. Come on–it’s a spring flower in a post about a spring holiday. That’s as close a match as you’re likely to find here.

Britain has an official religion, but that’s not the same thing as being a deeply religious country. I have a theory I can’t prove, but for what it’s worth I believe making a religion official drives people away from it in the long run.

I’m not sure how long that run is, mind you, and that’s handy, because if we’re discussing a place where it hasn’t played out that way I get to say, “Give it time.”

If I’m right and you happen to have a religion you like enough to want an entire nation to adopt it, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This year the Church of England—the country’s official church, remember—accused the chocolate company Cadbury and the National Trust, which owns a gazillion historic properties and runs tourists through them and their associated gift shops in the classiest possible way, of “airbrushing faith” out of its Easter egg hunts.

What did they do? Well, instead of holding Easter egg hunts, this year they called them Cadbury egg hunts. The church is apoplectic. Or, in fairness, parts of the church are apoplectic, but let’s keep using shorthand and say it’s the church as a whole. The sentences get too complicated otherwise, because I’m not sure exactly which parts of the church we’re talking about.

The National Trust pointed out that Easter is mentioned 13,000 times on its website, and furthermore that it was up to Cadbury to name and publicize the events they cosponsored. To translate that, they’re saying nothing happened and we didn’t do it.

Cadbury defended itself by saying that they use the word Easter multiple times elsewhere in their publicity, but the church still isn’t happy. If the word Easter doesn’t appear in the egg hunt name, it just isn’t Easter.

It all reminds me of a game we played when I was a kid, Captain, May I? The kid who was It told someone to take a step forward—a giant step, a baby step, a banana step. I don’t remember what a banana step was, but on 75th Street we had one. Kids who took the step without saying, “Captain, may I?” went back to the starting line.

Well, Cadbury forgot to say Easter in the right line of the publicity and has to go back to the starting line.

A BBC article reproduces one of the egg hunt promos, showing the phrase “enjoy Easter fun” in more eye-catching type than the Easterless egg hunt phrase. But it’s just not good enough. The National Trust has to go back to the starting line too.

The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said that not mentioning Easter in the egg hunt name was like “spitting on the grave” of John Cadbury, the chocolate company’s most Christian founder. But Cadbury’s several-times-great- granddaughter Esther McConnell spat back (firmly, gently, and metaphorically) that as a Quaker Cadbury didn’t celebrate Easter. “He believed that every day is equally sacred and, back then, this was expressed by not marking festivals.”

Take that, Archbishop.

The humanist society has called the whole thing a storm in an eggcup, but in case the flap wasn’t silly enough, the prime minister, Theresa May, waded in and said the decision to drop the word Easter was “absolutely ridiculous.”

Thanks, Terry. That deepened the conversation beyond measure.

Or do you prefer Terri?

Several articles have asked (and generally not quite answered) the question, Are egg hunts actually Christian? According to a Huffington Post article, the tradition of decorating eggs predates Christianity. But from an early stage, the egg was also claimed by various Christian groups as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. So far, so ambiguous. A Wikipedia article (never mind a link—it will all have changed by now) said more or less the same thing. So the egg seems to be both Christian and pre-Christian. And quite possibly non-Christian, although no one I found addressed this.

And the hunt? Nobody seems to be saying.

What about the Easter bunny? That symbolizes how irresistible little fuzzy animals are. The basket of eggs symbolizes breakfast. No religion has an exclusive claim to eggs, bunnies, or breakfast. You can call them what you like without fearing the wrath of an archbishop.

Bunnies, in case you’ve ever wondered about this, do not lay eggs. They don’t eat them either, which is why the Easter bunny’s willing to deliver them to humans.

And chocolate eggs? They symbolize candy companies making a lot of money. In the most religious possible way.

What fascinates me about this whole uproar is that the Church of England seems to be taking the position that it owns Easter and any organization large enough to be seen from space has to pay rent in the form of proper wording. But the holiday long since slipped out of church hands and it’s now a secular as well as (not instead of, mind you) a religious holiday.

That’s the price a religion pays for having dominated the national conversation for so long—and here we’re back to my unproven theory. Some of its holy traditions became folk traditions, and when the folk wandered away from the church, as most people from Christian backgrounds have in Britain, they do whatever they want with them. If they want chocolate rabbits or Easterless egg hunts that include, as some bit of commentary put it, people of all religions and none, then they’ll have them. And other than fussing, there isn’t much the church or the prime minister can do about it.

*

While we’re on the subject of chocolate and silly upsets, let’s talk about a social media storm claiming (oh, the horror of it all) that Cadbury is selling halal chocolate.

We’ll get to what halal chocolate is in a paragraph or two, but first, what’s wrong with that? Well, gasp, Muslims can eat it. Shock. More horror. What will become of the country if it appeases Muslims by changing its time-honored chocolate recipes? Britain will cease to be British, that’s what.

What makes food halal? It has to be porkless, and any meat that’s involved has to be slaughtered in a certain way.  Compared to the complexities of keeping kosher, keeping food halal is simple. Keeping kosher means, no pork, no shellfish, meat slaughtered in a certain way, meat and dairy have to be kept separate, and don’t get me started on what you have to do on Passover because I understand it in only the vaguest way, There are probably other rules, but that’s enough for a quick snapshot.

Jews and kosher, though, aren’t the bogeyman of the moment. Muslims and halal are.

But let’s go back to chocolate candy. It doesn’t have any pork. It doesn’t have any meat. It’s not made anyplace where it could be contaminated with either one. I used to work in a candy factory, so I’m prepared to testify on that. It was pigless, meatless, underpaid work. And my hair smelled like disgustingly chocolate.

So is chocolate halal? Um, sure. So are carrots. So’s lettuce. Ban carrots! Ban salad! Add lard to your chocolate bars! They’ll taste terrible and clog your arteries, but at least they won’t be halal. We’ll starve out the terrorists.

And what product was the flap about? According to the article I found, Cadbury’s Easter eggs. Which Cadbury’s was—as far as I can make out—calling Easter eggs and which probably aren’t marketed heavily to the Muslim market.

The photo accompanying the article was apparently from the Asia-Pacific market and showed someone with a halal certificate and instead of Easter eggs a couple of chocolate bars. Which symbolize the trouble you can get into on the internet by doing nothing more than making chocolate according to the recipe you’ve been using for years.

*

And finally, a quick roundup of grotesquely overpriced chocolate eggs, because here at Notes from the U.K. that’s how we celebrate Easter.

Hotel Chocolat sells the Ostrich Egg–Classic for £90. The dash in the name is theirs, although purists please note, I changed it from an en dash to an em dash, originally so it wouldn’t form a mid-dash break at the end of the line but once I changed the layout because I’m too lazy to change it back. It’s over a kilo of chocolate and the text says, “Ostriches lay the largest eggs of any living bird–and we measured a real one to create the heftiest shell in our range!”

First point: As a general rule, dead birds don’t lay eggs. So you don’t, strictly speaking, need to say “living.”

Sorry, I can’t help myself. I worked as an editor and copy editor, which is a way of saying that I misunderstood people for a living. Some things stay with you even after you retire.

Second point: That bit about the “heftiest shell in our range”? It’s like saying that at five foot not very much I’m the tallest person in my category. The problem is, what category are we talking about?

Poof. The text just disappeared in a puff of semi-organic cocoa.

But let’s move into a higher range. Fortnum & Mason sells the Collosal Egg for £90. It’s 1.4 kilos of chocolate and F & M defies anyone “not to be impressed” by it.

I’m not impressed, because Bettys (there’s no apostrophe in the name) of Harrogate sells its Imperial Easter Egg for £250. It weighs 5 kilos and is delivered personally, whatever that means. You have to call to work out the details–that’s how personal it is.

Winning the competition, however (and remember, this isn’t really a competition you’d want to win) is the Hotel Cafe Royal, which sells an Easter egg for £600. It weighs more than the planet it rests upon and takes three days to make. I have no idea how you’d buy one because it’s so exclusive the hotel website doesn’t mention it. That keeps the riffraff from trying to buy stuff that’s above their station.

That’s a very British concept, getting above your station. I should write about it but I understand it even less than I understand the intricacies of keeping kosher.

I also don’t know how the monster egg is delivered. Maybe you have to arrange to be born inside so you can eat your way out, but that’s not the kind of information the riffraff need to have, so I just don’t know.

For a final bizarre note, the Evening Standard calls a £57.50 egg from Bettys “reasonably priced” but recommends the £37 version “for those on a budget.”

That’s a hell of a budget. And no, if you live somewhere else and are trying to figure out what life in Britain is like, this is not real life.

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year—if you celebrate anything—I wish you a good, non-hysterical, and financially sustainable holiday.

71 thoughts on “A British Easter and the established religion

  1. I find it absurd that that the uproar over the omission of the word ‘Easter’ in place of Cadbury has went up all the way up into parliament. Like you, I am not religious. I don’t follow a religion or faith, and the points you raised about the where the Easter egg hunt and the bunnies date back to is very much valid. For all you know these concepts originated entirely from another occasion or era altogether that has nothing to do with Christ and Christianity.

    The subject of halal chocolate is baffling. The only thing I can see this happening is if chocolates are processed in a facility alongside meat and well, I am sure this is never ever the case…

    After Easter, let’s see all those chocolate prices drop and drop and drop. Best time to buy chocolate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Here in Australia some of us get a bit nationalistic about Easter and buy not chocolate bunnies but chocolate bilbies. The bilby is a small desert dwelling marsupial with big ears and much more acceptable than rabbits, which are one of the greatest pests in this country. Anyway, Google an image of a bilby: bet you think they’re cute. Happy days! Penny

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ll start with an observation. You people (British) seem to enjoy rolling things down hills. While your theory about official religions wearing thin over time, remains unproven, that a holiday, religious or otherwise will attract marketing, is an established fact. I’ll also add that we played Mother May I, and I wonder if that says anything about the relative toughness of our neighborhoods or our mothers.

    Whatever you celebrate and whenever you celebrate it, I hope it’s happy. Sorry, since I read the editor part, I feel I should say I hope you’re happy, but I’m not sure how to say that. I’m going to have some chocolate now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it is rural Cornwall, rather than the UK as a whole. The idea that most people are some kind of Christian seems just as alien to me as a red-nappy Jewish atheist from North London, as it does to you. Ritual eggs are pre-Christian, perhaps even pre monotheistic. Why there has to be a moral panic over them I do not know, except that Mrs May can use a moral panic. There is an egg on the Seder plate at Passover, symbolising freedom it seems. I discovered today that are pinterest groups with pictures of verses from thet Qran beautifully inscribed on an egg. I do not know what Zoroaster had to say about eggs. Surely eggs symbolise new life, the coming of spring, the end of the forced fasting of winter for many peoples. The symbolism of chocolate is less clear, and less attractive. My favourite discovery today is of the addition of an orange to one family’s Passover table because a Rabbi once said that women will become Rabbis when there is an orange on the Seder plate. Happy Easter, good yon t’ov. (can’t spell in Hebrew)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful story about the orange on the Seder plate. It could become a tradition.

      I’m sure I often make the mistake of judging Britain as a whole by Cornwall. In the abstract, I know better, but when we get down to specifics it gets messier.

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  5. Well then let me wish you a non-blessed-but-nevertheless-happy spring-weekend-that-coincides-with-Easter! ;)

    Very interesting observations about what effect it has on the culture at large when a particular religion is official. About six years ago now, I moved into a majority Catholic area, which is the first time I have ever lived in an area where I am in the religious majority, and virtually every Catholic I happen to be acquainted with seems to be Catholic out of habit and not because they actually thought about it and decide they believe it. I think it’s just human nature not to put too much effort into questioning The Way Things Are unless there’s a really good reason; and for most people the religion they were raised with isn’t an overwhelmingly good or bad experience, and also they may lack either the motivation or the capability to really understand the WHY behind everything. So the effect is that most people just go along with the flow. And if the flow is religion fading into the backdrop, well why rock the boat?

    But on to the Cadbury egg hunts – you mean to tell me that a for-profit company acted in a completely predictable for-profit way by inserting their branding wherever they could? You can’t see me, but this is totally my shocked face.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh – I almost forgot!

    I’ve heard some rumblings of fear that making the extra effort to make / certify things as halal is somehow capitulating to Islamic culture taking over the world.

    Which is a really misguided way to look at it, in my book. If you have a friend whom you know is vegan and you invite them over for dinner, are you “capitulating to veganism” if you make the extra effort to make things your vegan friend can eat? No – you’re just being polite and a decent human being.

    Obviously the analogy isn’t perfect because observant Muslims live here with us in our shared home, but the principle of just being a decent human being still applies.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know. There’s been some flap over whether the halal method of slaughter is animal cruelty. Oddly enough, the people who get worked up about that aren’t in a frenzy about the kosher method, which is the same as far as the animal’s concerned, and an observant Muslim can eat kosher meat–or so the only observant Muslim I’ve cooked for told me, although she also said she was happy to eat vegetarian food. So I slaughtered the carrots ever so correctly….

      It’s all a pretext for getting into an uproar about Muslims.

      Liked by 4 people

      • I don’t think complaining about how muslims kill animals negates people’s feeling about how Jews (Jewish?) kill them. It’s just seen through the hot topic / bogeyman of the moment (as you said). Either way is rank and I don’t think your average non muslim / non jewish meataphore should wear any superior badges either.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’d like to know how the chocolate egg came to be a Christian icon – though, as the church stole the winter solstice in order to submerge paganism, it seems likely that they did a similar thing with chocolate eggs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • A lot of the churches around here–or so people say–were built on the sites of wells that were considered holy not by Christians but by the people the Christians hoped to convert. I expect a lot of that went on: You fold elements of the old religion into the new so people won’t be as alienated by it as they might otherwise be. Although if I considered a spot holy and some other outfit built a church on it, I’d be plenty alienated.

      Of course, that’s just me….

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’d be pretty pissed off, too. I see organised religion as a tool to keep the masses in order, and find Fat Henry’s jolly old C of E particularly laughable.
        But then, I’m a subversive leftie – though these days I’m painted in a sustainable shade of green.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m not sure Cadbury’s do still use the same recipe for chocolate. They certainly changed the recipe for the creme egg a couple of years ago after they were bought by an American company. I wish I could say it was a change for the better, but it wasn’t. I don’t eat much chocolate, so not eating Cadbury’s chocolate anymore is not a particular hardship.

    Liked by 1 person

          • I used to work at TSB Cadburys, many years ago and still rarely eat chocolate or biscuits as a consequence of the smell.
            My mother was the first woman Cadburys sponsored to go to university, which is where she met my father, so as a family we are quite fond of them, and will certainly forgive them for omitting the word Easter, especially since the church stole it from the pagans in the first place.
            My limited understanding of the celebration is that Jesus comes out from the tomb and if he sees his shadow, e get six more weeks of spring, but I may be getting muddled.
            I absolutely agree that we generally care a lot less in the UK about the church since we own it, than in America where freedom of religion seems to mean the absolute opposite.
            One final note, please don’t start calling the PM Terry or she may start laying claim to chocolate oranges as well as chocolate eggs, and that will never do!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Interesting–and moving–story about Cadburys and your parents. I knew they had a very Quaker history of doing worthwhile stuff back before all that got lost, but all that becomes more real when you hear an actual person whose life they changed.

              If Terry (sorry, I just have to call her that) can’t tell her chocolate oranges from her chocolate eggs, she may get herself banned from Easter entirely. On religious grounds. Which I understand much better now that you’ve explained the meaning of Easter to me.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. The halal chocolate deserves to appear in a stand-up ! It is a really good one, it could be followed by an existential question such as : Are carrots more halal than chocolate ?
    Well, the quasi-totality of far right supporters are of limited intelligence, I guess we can witness that .
    The French word for Easter is Pâques, and for Pessa’h it is Pâque . This implies a different approach, for Easter comes from Eostre and a heathen religion . In Latin tongues the name comes from the Hebrew name through Greek .
    And chocolate comes from America . I’m not sure if Pre-Columbians were Taoist or Buddhist, but I’m nearly certain that chocolate was not meant to be halal .

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s an interesting bit of word history–one I didn’t know. If I understand you right, in spoken French you’d be hard pressed to tell Passover from Easter, right? Imagine the confusion that could lead to. Before you knew what you’d gotten yourself into, you could end up inviting the Pope home for a seder.

      To the best of my knowledge–which I’m sure I’ve demonstrated by now is limited–the pre-Columbians weren’t either Taoist or Buddhist, but they drank their chocolate instead of eating it, which isn’t relevant to the discussion but just happens to be something I know. Or think I do.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We drink our chocolate too, but we spoil it with milk and sugar so it is very far from “xocolatl” and its original energetic properties as drunk in the pre-Columbian cultures . (I remember, they were Zoroastrian) .
        In spoken French there’s never any confusion since Passover is always said “la Pâque juive” while Eastern is always said “Pâques”, with no article before . And it’s plural (don’t know why) so when it comes with a verb or an adjective the plural agreement is “de rigueur” . It’s more a problem in Spanish because they call both “Pascua” and the Pope is Argentinian . Last time I called him this poor old thing did confuse, but I didn’t report him to יהוה due to his age and the fact that to BELIEVE in a religion people need an already weak brain, as the USA demonstrate daily .

        Liked by 1 person

        • I hardly know where to start. Chocolate: I’ve tasted unsweetened chocolate nibs (they sound like part of a pen, don’t they?) and I’m not in a hurry to repeat the experience. I don’t know what an unsweetened chocolate drink would taste like, but I expect it’s not for the faint of heart. Of course, coffee and tea are pretty foul until you get a taste for them. But Zoroastrians are tough, I’m sure, so it’s all okay.

          I’m fascinated by the nearness–or identicalness–of Easter and Passover in French and Spanish. I speak a bit of both–more Spanish than French–but Passover never came up in my use of either. The fascination, I’m sure, comes from the assumptions that grow out of the language(s) we grow up with. In my world, the two were separate things that could only be connected with a bit of story and history. To find them linguistic partners rearranges my brain quite a bit–something that’s almost always worthwhile.

          Liked by 2 people

          • The first reason that comes to mind is the Christ chose to Pass Away when it was Pass Over time in Yerushalayim . This semantic/religious confusion ( unless it was done on purpose to convince the stubborn Jews ) lasted for long and always since Pâques/Eastern has also occurred during the month of Nissan (and not of Toyota or Suzuki as it could have to make a clear temporal separation ) .

            Liked by 1 person

        • I hardly know where to start. Chocolate: I’ve tasted unsweetened chocolate nibs (they sound like part of a pen, don’t they?) and I’m not in a hurry to repeat the experience. I don’t know what an unsweetened chocolate drink would taste like, but I expect it’s not for the faint of heart. Of course, coffee and tea are pretty foul until you get a taste for them. But Zoroastrians are tough, I’m sure, so it’s all okay.

          I’m fascinated by the nearness–or identicalness–of Easter and Passover in French and Spanish. I speak a bit of both–more Spanish than French–but Passover never came up in my use of either. The fascination, I’m sure, comes from the assumptions that grow out of the language(s) we grow up with. In my world, the two were separate things that could only be connected with a bit of story and history. To find them linguistic partners rearranges my brain quite a bit–something that’s almost always worthwhile.

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  10. A thing that could have helped to figure this big tribe was the possibility of watching the island in times when there still were three wheels and wooden doors cars . I must admit I discovered many axes that were still easy to see when Britain was more openly Britain . Or more really alas . I miss what I experimented in my first ethnological explorations in this misty people

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love the idea of the Church of England in an uproar about Cadbury. Priceless. Your Mother May I and all this talk of Easter brought back many childhood memories, although I admit to being “fallen” as an adult. I saw Bill Maher live in SF the other night and he had a thing or two to say about religion. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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