A wholly sweet affair?

The children are off on their Easter holidays and we are all looking forward to a long Bank Holiday, but how many of us really understand the significance of our Bank Holiday break? Katy Evans reports.

The children are off on their Easter holidays and we are all looking forward to a long Bank Holiday, but how many of us really understand the significance of our Bank Holiday break? Katy Evans reports.

TODAY is not just any old Thursday; it's Maundy Thursday. Most people are aware of Good Friday, largely because it means a day off work. But the significance of both days, and, for that matter, the entire Holy Week, which started with Palm Sunday last weekend, seems to be lost on a large percentage of the population, especially the young.

With supermarket aisles stacked high with chocolate eggs, not to mention an entire chocolate billboard being created in London earlier this week, its no wonder younger members of society are confused about the real meaning of Easter.

The 2001 census stated almost 72% of the English population classed themselves as Christian. This figure is likely to be much lower now but even still, it by no means represents the number of people who actually attend church, other than for the usual “hatches, matches and dispatches”.


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A survey published yesterday revealed one in ten people aged 15 - 24 were ignorant as to why Easter is celebrated. The survey of 1,000 adults, by the supermarket chain Somerfield, also showed one in six people of that age bracket had no idea of the significance of Good Friday.

Half said they were giving up something for Lent even though many did not know the religious meaning behind their decision.

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“Easter is as hollow as most chocolate eggs if we don't take the chance to think about what it means - that Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected to show us the power of God's love - the power that allows us all to be born to new life,” said a Church of England spokesman in response to the survey.

To make matters worse, the press release issued with the survey only exacerbated the very ignorance it was trying to highlight, stating that the tradition of giving Easter eggs was to celebrate the “birth” of Christ. An amended version was issued with the word “rebirth”, and finally, after consultation with the Church of England, a third draft sent out, changing “rebirth” to “resurrection”.

But surely eggs, whether chocolate or not, are more linked to the Pagan spring festival than to Christianity? The bible doesn't mention eggs being laid around the cross (or any bunnies hopping about).

“Easter eggs represent new life, focusing on the resurrection on Easter Sunday,” says Gavin Stone, diocesan youth adviser for St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. “Also, Easter eggs are hollow, so that can represent the fact that the tomb (where Jesus's body was put after his crucifixion) was empty when opened up.”

Other interpretations are that eggs represent the rock rolled in front of Jesus's tomb.

Mr Stone is optimistic about the future of the Church of England, citing a 3.5% rise in attendance at Anglican Parish Churches and related activities by those aged 5-18 (from 2004 - 2005).

“It may be small but this figure is quite important because it shows my job is not just about managing declining numbers,” which he says is what most people assume.

“Churches are starting to change the way they engage with young people. It's not just about the Sunday service anymore but how we work with the community on other days of the week,” he says, adding that some young people run drop-in “cafes” during the week around Suffolk.

But even still, families these days are more likely to be at the cinema, a theme park, of just sitting at home in front of the TV than going to church together.

Reverend Robert Findlay has been the minister for Stoke Green Baptist Church on Maidenhall Approach, Ipswich, for the past 20 years.

“At Easter we'll celebrate that everyone can have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To think of Easter as melted chocolate is to be sold short.”

Rev Findlay pays visits to the three nearby schools - Halifax Primary, Hillside Primary, and Stoke High School - where he carried out various assemblies, although the number of those has declined over the years.

“For many children, chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs are what Easter is about; many don't have a sense that there is religious teaching and a lifestyle that follows those teachings too,” he says.

The Somerfield survey stated one in five were planning on going to church this weekend and Rev Findlay agrees there are definitely more attendees at Easter and Christmas time. In fact, three of his congregation, one a teenager, will be baptised this weekend. The church also holds weekly youth groups attended by a dozen or so teens but this pales in comparison to the days when the church was at the heart of every community.

“The reason people don't know (about what Easter means) is it used to be that all families would teach their children but increasingly people are uncertain about religion or not sure what to pass on to the next generation.”

He adds that it's not just about teaching the Easter story but about Christian practise and moral ethics, “how to live together, to care for one another, to trust each other”.

“I think consumerism has absorbed people's attention for a few decades but when it comes to talking about real life values, people will turn to God in the decades ahead.”

But whether a move towards organised religion or just an increased interest in the “spiritual” life, society is increasingly diverse and multicultural so perhaps we'd all do best to preach tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and acceptance - all Christian values anyway - both in and out of schools, rather than get too bogged down with what one particular religious book says over another. Learning from the past can be useful, but the future is in our (chocolate covered - for this weekend at least) hands.

Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox. So Easter became a “movable feast” which can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.

Lent - a period of penitence in preparation for the Easter festival - covers a 46-day period begging on Ash Wednesday (after pancake day) and ending with Easter Sunday. Lent itself comprises just 40 days, as the six Sundays are excluded from the Lenten fast.

Holly Week begins on Palm Sunday. It takes its name from Jesus' entry into Jerusalem where the crowds laid palms at his feet.

Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and established the ceremony known as the Eucharist.

Good Friday marks the day of Jesus's crucifixion.

Lent ends on Easter Sunday, the day of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

For more information about Easter, visit www.rejesus.co.uk/spirituality/three_days/index.html or

www.holidays.net/easter/story.htm,

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