Growing up, my family always celebrated Easter. Both my parents were Catholic, so of course we observed a major holy day. It was a special weekend of chocolate overload, baked ham, and The Ten Commandments.
Sometimes we’d catch a broadcast of the movie King of Kings. In this film Jesus is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, GQ model. It seems he should carry a surf board for his sermon on the mount. “Blessed are the meek and the centerfolds.”
Catholicism was practiced in our house but never dictated. I’d accompany my dad to Wednesday novena service. I didn’t understand the prayers, but I liked the incense, the statue of the Virgin Mary, and all the candles. That’s why I’m drawn to Bath & Body Works – the fragrances, incense candles and Lady Madonna in her checked apron greeting me with shopping basket.
I would have kept my Wednesday gig, if it wasn’t for the constant kneeling. Sit, kneel, sit, kneel – personal pain was a required part of the mass. A little self-flagellation of the knees doesn’t increase faith, just a need for Holy Smirnoff.
I was never allowed one of the “Lord’s Lozenges,” because I didn’t attend catechism classes. No communion for me. I would sit alone in the pew while my dad went to the altar for free samples. I wasn’t a real Catholic, just a tourist with a pass. “All heathens remain kneeling during this portion of the service.”
The bible was a fascinating book with all types of adventures and spine-chilling miracles. However, it’s archaic language is not the most enjoyable read. No one gets “smitied” or “smoted” in Spiderman. I wanted a version I could understand. What about bible stories in comic book form with super villains like Sodom and Gomorrah? I’d read Superman vs. The Ten Plagues.
For me, bible movies were always better than the book. I loved watching John Houston’s epic film The Bible: In the Beginning. It was entertaining to watch floods, famines and people being turned into pillars of salt. A human sacrifice is always great with a fun-sized box of Milk Duds.
The films always took me back to simpler times with rivers of blood, boils, swarms of locusts, slavery and an occasional belly dance – all presented in technicolor with sweeping, majestic soundtracks.
Charlton Heston will always be the definitive Moses, and Lily Munster was a good Mrs. Moses. With a little bronzer, no one would ever know they were as far from Middle Eastern as the set of the movie. It’s Hollywood – it’s about entertainment not accuracy.
I’m inquisitive and skeptical, so I began to question all these fantastic tales. I was a doubting Thomas. Some of the extraordinary feats in the films seemed questionable to me. How does one part a sea and not get wet, turn water into Chardonnay, or feed 5,000 men without Oprah’s caterer? There wasn’t a David Blaine or Penn and Teller in my King James version.
Was I supposed to believe these stories as truth rather than fiction? I needed proof, and asked my parents, “if all those miracles took place in biblical times, why aren’t they still occurring today?”
Where are the modern leper healers, the water walkers, the ark builders, or the herald angels? I’ve watched the Voice and the angles aren’t singing. My mom told me having faith was believing unconditionally in something, and we didn’t need to see miracles occurring.
That was an acceptable answer for her but not me. I needed it all explained in a New York Times best-selling Dan Brown thriller.
As I left childhood, I turned away from those biblical concepts. They are just stories passed down from generations – a whispering down the lane. Acts of normal men and women, over time and telling, become characters who’ve talked to a burning bush and brought the dead back to life. I wanted scientific explanations or at least an affidavit from Bill Nye.
I wanted to know why Jesus wasn’t a vampire if he rose from the dead? How did ham, chocolate and the Easter Bunny fit into a holy day, and why the two biggest Christian holidays involve home invasion?
Did Jesus give permission to Santa Claus and the Easter Rabbit to break into our homes? I never liked the thought of an overweight elf or a rabbit with glandular problems lurking in my house. If I ever saw a giant bunny creeping down my hallway in the dark, I’d be the one leaving a few chocolate eggs.
I’ve never quite figured out how these characters became part of the religious holidays. I never read about Jesus meeting Peter Cottontail or Jolly Ole Saint Nick in Nazareth. Maybe they were there on vacation and met in Starbucks? I hope Santa wasn’t wearing his wool suit in the desert – can you image that red ball of sweat?
There has to be faith in believing that certain things are just so. It is a common thread in all religions. I wanted to research similarities from experiencing customs in other religious celebrations.
I know that Passover usually falls around the same time as Easter, so I was curious. I had heard of Hanukkah Harry, but I didn’t recall a Passover Pony, or any equivalent to our giant bunny.
I was an adult when I attended my first Passover Seder. For me, not growing up exposed to Jewish culture, the observance of the holiday was a foreign ritual. I knew it involved a meal with matzah.
Matzah is Jewish bread that looks like cardboard. It is flat so it can be easily transported across the desert when you’re trying to escape the Pharaoh and his army of a thousand day-rate extras.
A Seder plate is placed on the center of the dining table and it represents the retelling of the Passover story with food. It’s a Jewish Lazy Susan, or in this case Lazy Sadie, with no appetizing items on it.
At first glance, I wished I’d stopped at McDonald’s on the way to the meal, because there was no way I was going to fill up on bitter herbs, a roasted shank bone, a hard-boiled egg and some other unrecognizable things.
I was surprised that on everyone’s plate was a Seder instruction manual. What ingenuity, Christians don’t have an Easter handbook. The manual is read before the meal to recount the reason for Passover, and to make everyone incredibly hungry so the matzah will seem mouthwatering.
Once the family began to read from the book, I realized that Cecil B. DeMille stole the story of Passover and made it into the Ten Commandants. Damn, another thing stolen from the Jews!
In Mr. DeMille’s defense, he did shorten the story some. Getting through the original script took much longer than watching the movie. There were songs, questions, prayers, food rituals – basically it’s a night of waiting for everything to Pass-over.
It was a familiar story and I felt comfortable, except when they brought out the gefilte fish. Moses and I went way back to my living room and the family television on Easter Sunday. Who knew he was a cross over event like Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. I guess I could hold out for a little faith.