On Saturday some new friends came over to hang out and dye Easter eggs with us. They have two daughters, one who is nearly three, and the other not quite six months. While the kids busied themselves with paints and cut-off sponges, glitter and dye, I chatted with the mom about holiday traditions. She was raised Christian, and her husband Jewish; after much debate and discussion, they recently decided they would raise the two girls Jewish, but embrace aspects of the mother's Christian faith as well (especially with regard to Christmas). These are the types of discussions books urge you to have before you're married and definitely before you start down the parenting path, but which, I'm sure, end up being postponed by many until they become absolutely necessary. We have a set of good friends in New York in the same boat, only the wife is Jewish. They muddled along the first two years as parents, and then decided to bite the bullet and decide: Now they work hard to straddle both sides, equally celebrating each and every holiday, chaotically I'm sure, but with much joy and tradition all around.
Personally, I think this is a rich, albeit complicated way to grow up. It's a wonderful thing to be able to share in traditions that are special to two (or more) different sides of your family. I was raised Greek Orthodox, and intricate moon-related calculations--those and the fact that Greek Easter must always follow Passover--usually meant that our Easter rarely coincided with the Western one. Yet my parents managed to meld the magic of the Easter bunny and baskets brimming with chocolates and jelly beans in with the somber and moving traditions of Greek Easter: eggs dyed not the light pastel colors of Easter bunny Easter, but a deep, shiny, blood-red color; a house that always seemed to smell strongly of vinegar as Easter approached, and the eggs--those glorious eggs--lined up like oval rubies in their egg cartons on the counter, waiting to be cracked open. We made koulourakia together--delicious crumbly cookies, and shaped them into squiggles, or braids, or pretzels. We anticipated Easter morning, which was about more than just chocolate bunnies and jelly beans; it was about a veritable feast of sight and taste that went far beyond the fading sugary taste of candy and chocolates.
Scott and I, like so many couples, didn't talk much about traditions before parenthood. We muddled through the first few Easters as a new family, but then the dust settled and we regrouped, reaching out almost instinctively to gather up our old traditions, and to create new ones, as well. Every year we celebrate both Easters--the first about eggs dyed to match the pastel colors of the new flowers--the pink uncurling azaleas, the faded yellow dandelions, the new green of the early leaves. The kids rush to find their hidden baskets, and sneak jelly beans before breakfast. We might have egg hunts--and, like this year, be lucky enough to have cousins over and bask in the joy of family. We talk about the new season and the cycles life brings, and the kids half-listen, a little awed by it all.
But for me, the second Easter holds a special place in my heart. For it's then, elbow-deep in flour and yeast, that I truly get to relive the Easters of my childhood and share the memories with my own children. In the end, it's the traditions that bind us together, closing the distances, and filling in the gaps left from relocations and work, and from the losses of loved ones. The dough from the sweet Easter bread spills over the sides of the pan, the kids shape the traditional cookies into crazy shapes, and I'll try again to mix a dye as deep red as the jeweled eggs my mother made.