| Easter dresses on parade (and my darling Nana) |
Growing up, holidays were a big deal in my house. We celebrated everything. Easter meant a frilly new dress, a fancy hotel brunch, and one of those too-beautiful-to-eat sugar eggs with a miniature Easter scene inside created entirely of frosting. Mother’s Day meant the same brunch, but no new dress (and no candy, alas…). July 4th was entirely overshadowed by July 24th (better known as “Pioneer Day”, for all of my non-Utah-bred friends), when every family member for miles around piled into my grandparents’ ample backyard to partake in a bottomless bounty of summer barbecue staples. Burgers, dogs, watermelon, corn on the cob…I remember shucking corn for hours with my grandfather, him laughing at me whenever I found a worm in the husks and screamed bloody murder. On my birthday, my mom took the entire day off of work to entertain me.
And those were just the minor holidays. So, you can see where my expectations might be a bit skewed.
Every one of those days revolved around family, but most especially around my grandmother. She was the epicenter of all of it – the family, food, the location, the comically overgrown collection of seasonal decorations. And I took it to heart in a big way. Now that she’s gone, I find myself fiercely protective of the rituals and celebrations she created. I staunchly refuse to make any stuffing at Thanksgiving that isn’t her recipe, and still feel a pang of emptiness on Halloween because I’m not curled up on her couch, watching The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and helping her hand out candy (the little kids get the full-size bars, and the teenagers get the snack-size). The spot in my chest where I keep my memories of her gets heavier as a holiday nears – the weight sometimes becoming unbearable, even now. I become intractable and unreasonable, entrenched in nostalgia and how it “should” be.
As you might imagine, this creates a bit of a sticky wicket when it comes to building new traditions with my husband. One of the great challenges of our union has been finding ways to incorporate my Big Book of Holiday Expectations into our life together. His latently Jewish family never cared much for holidays, and the ones they did celebrate are utterly foreign to me. (Given my pro-holiday proclivities, I have been trying to convince him to let me host a Seder every year since we wed, without success.) After stumbling through our first few holiday seasons together with a distinct lack of grace and an abundance of emotional bruises, we’ve learned, finally, that traditions don’t have to be rooted in childhood. He’s come around to some of the traditions I love, and we’ve built a few new traditions together, which have become as precious to me as any I grew up with. It turns out, there are options that lie somewhere between my way and the highway, and if I manage to park my high horse for a moment and look around, they can be their own kind of wonderful.
A few years before she died, my grandmother sent me a VHS tape of Easter Parade. Truly, if you haven’t seen it, email me and I’ll send you a copy – I’m that convinced you’ll love it. When she first gave it to me, I dismissed it. “Oh sure,” I thought, “I’ll get to that someday.” But she asked and asked, and finally I broke down and watched the darn thing. And fell in love, just as she knew I would. Every year after that, she’d ask me on Easter if I’d watched it. And, because I am just the teensiest bit tradition-prone, within a couple of years it was as ingrained as if I’d been watching it my entire life.
Truth be told, I’m not particularly religious. My interest in Easter has always been purely pagan: give me hot cross buns and Cadbury Creme Eggs over ashes and Lent any day. While the more canonical aspects of Easter aren’t my cup of tea, the rest of it is right up my alley. Easter means family and brunch, a basket of candy and a new dress. What’s a better holiday than that? Sadly, most of those Easter traditions have drifted away as I’ve grown up. Family has scattered, Easter brunch is overpriced and overcrowded, and…well, I married a Jew, so Easter baskets are only slightly less confusing to him than Christmas stockings. Also, Easter is really a kids’ holiday at heart, and I’m what you might call “selectively allergic” to the little sugar-eating munchkins.
But there’s comfort in tradition. It’s a way to relive the parts of the past we remember fondly, viewed through that reassuringly rosy lens of nostalgia that filters out the family squabbles, the mistakes and the regrets that haunt us late at night. It’s a way to hold on to the people we love, a way to remember them and keep them close, even when they’re heartbreakingly far away.
So, although I won’t be donning a pale blue dress with a white pinafore (more’s the pity), and I have a feeling brunch isn’t in the cards, I can guarantee that I’ll spend this Sunday watching Easter Parade (and probably eating a fair amount of Easter candy). I’d give anything to sit on my grandmother’s sofa and watch it with her. But when I press “play” this Sunday morning, she’ll be just a little bit closer to me, and that spot on my chest will ache just a little bit less.