Easter is a curious festival. Claimed by both Christians (to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection) and Jews (to celebrate the Passover), it has its roots in even more ancient pagan rites that grew up to mark the emergence of the spring. This year, as I sit in my office looking out at a row of icicles, each more than two feet long, and the snowy landscape beyond, nature seems to have played a bizarre trick. The Christian ‘moveable feast’ concept would be perfectly logical if the holiday could be chosen after spring had demonstrably arrived, but I suppose that at some point we – or the government – would have to plump for a date and we might still get caught out by freak snowstorms. I doubt if David Cameron would want to be held responsible for a wet, cold Easter on top of everything else.
Easter is associated with the rising of the moon, the heavenly body worshipped by many prehistoric peoples. In Babylon, it was the feast of the Ashtaroth, the moon-goddess who also represented fertility; yet, paradoxically, there is evidence that babies were slaughtered on her altar. In modern times, Easter, like Christmas, has become a kind of black spot for domestic murders. One of the most notorious was the murder of eleven family members by James Ruppert in Ohio in 1975. A slightly-built, quiet-spoken man, he had no history of violence until he chose this day to lash out at the family that he felt had continually marginalised and despised him.
On a lighter note, Norwegians are apparently busy creating a new tradition of using the leisure offered by the Easter break to engage in their own personal crimefests, or several-day concerted sessions of reading crime novels. I suppose they have the reputation of having produced some of the world’s foremost crime-writers to uphold, but sociologists also attribute the trend to the deeper, more primeval association of Easter with death.
So far I’ve dwelt mainly on Easter’s powerful association with death, but, as I’ve suggested, it is a Janus-like event, intended to celebrate life and death together. Eggs, chicks, lambs, bunnies, Easter hares – all are familiar symbols of hope and regeneration. Personally, the thing that I like best about them is that each is available in chocolate. Chocolate was invented more than three thousand years ago by the Aztecs, another race of people with a penchant for human slaughter. It brings substance to the idea of killing for a box of chocolates. If everyone gives generously of chocolate this Easter, it won’t be necessary – we’ll all have plenty! And peace will break out.