A COUPLE OF THOUSAND Passovers ago, somewhere in the Middle East, thirteen well-to-do fellas sat down to have a nice meal, by most accounts somewhere in between 3 and 5 in the afternoon and likely on a Thursday. The menu apparently included lamb, recently slaughtered. There may or may not have been mint jelly.
Apparently, none of the gents was aware of the unlucky nature of the number thirteen. If they were, perhaps the next day one of the diners would not have been killed, crucified, in fact, by some Romans. A tradgedy, yes, but not wanting to ruin the long weekend, Passover continued. Chametz was removed, leaven was burned, matzo ball soup was devoured, everyone had a nice seder, and washed down the holiday with four cups of wine. Then shit got weird.
On the Sunday the dude who was killed rose from the dead like a zombie, and then hung out for forty days before finally ascending to heaven. Oh, and he promised that one day he was going to come back and when he did he was not going to be real nice to everyone.
Well, we’re still waiting, but every spring most of us gather with friends and family, eat ham and drink too much wine over a three-day weekend. It’s commonly referred to as Easter, though some people called it Resurrection Day until Michael Bay bought the rights to that title for an as-of-yet unproduced sequel to, well, any of his horrible horrible films. And if you thought the beginnings of Easter was weird, here are some equally strange Easter oddities.
1. The Easter Bunny
Since the eighteenth century, a magical 6’2’’ overweight pantsless rabbit has been visiting the children of America the night before Easter and hiding diabetic-coma inducing amounts of chocolate eggs in their homes. The next morning, the children fight each other for the eggs before devouring them instead of meals for as long as the supply lasts. The origins of the “Easter Bunny” (or “Spring Bunny” as he’s known in parts of rural Texas and the southern coast of Rhode Island) vary by family and region, though several theories are prevalent. A popular one is that the Easter Bunny is actually Santa Claus risen from his post-Christmas slumber. Some contend that the Easter Bunny does not exist. But then how do you explain the eggs?
2. Dyngus Day
Dyngus Day is a popular celebration, particularly in cosmopolitan meccas such as Buffalo, New York, and Bloomington, Indiana. The fete is celebrated on the Monday following Easter, and has its roots in Polish and Egyptian traditions, the only three known occasions of the meeting of those very different cultures, in addition to Arabian horses and actress Mila Kunis. Celebrations include parades, the crowning the World’s Largest Dyngus Day Squirt Gun, and the consumption of many many perogies, which are essentially the potato version of the Easter egg. Some people where electric blue wigs for no apparent reason.
For well over two hundred years in England, on Easter Monday, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the villagers of Medbourne and Hallaton get up very early, have a parade, and then play a bastardized version of soccer crossed with a bull run with kegs of beer. There are very few rules, and the games intentions are suspect. Instead of halftime, they have a church service, and the game ends when the villagers get tired, after which they drink the kegs. Oh, and instead of using a whistle or a starting gun, the beginning of the match is signaled by a priest throwing bits of a rabbit pie into the crowd. So, they kind of go the other way on the rabbit there.
Every Easter in the village of Vrontados, on the Greek island of Chios, inhabitants celebrate the holiday by having two opposing churches fire rockets at each other. This was toned down from the origins of the celebration in which the churches fired canons at each other, but people kept dying. Fortunately, the homemade rockets used today only maim the villagers. The winning church is determined by an arcane scoring system, though typically it’s the church that has not been burned to the ground. Given Greece’s current economic crisis, rumors persist that this Easter residents will simply be flicking lit matches at each other while drinking large quantities of the highly flammable Greek liquor Ouzo.
When you do even simple audit of European traditions, it comes as no surprise who won the war. A survey of their Easter traditions finds the birthplace of enlightenment to be the creepy cousin of Easter celebrations. In Haux, France they make an omelet that is shared by over a thousand people. And yet still they blame the spread of the plague on rats. In Germany, they set fire to Christmas trees, proving once again that Germans are a lazy people intent on destroying everything that is good. The Czechs, Estonians, and Slovaks spank and beat their women with colorful whips made of willow and ribbons, which begs the question: the Czechs, Estonians, and Slovaks do what to their women? In Sweden, children dress up like witches and go asking strangers for candy while adults set everything they can find on fire. Seriously, how did Ikea become so popular? Next time we decide to invade someone, let’s go grab one of these Easter-killing Euro trash country’s and turn it into an vacation spot.
Mike Spry is the author of JACK (Snare Books, 2008), which was shortlisted for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry, and he was longlisted for the 2010 Journey Prize. His most recent work is Distillery Songs (Insomniac Press, 2011).