Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Easter Retail | Easter Re-Tale

Jo and I went into the centre of Nottingham this morning, shopping. As we moved through various stores, I noticed something I’ve not noticed in previous years. Easter has gone all Christmassy. First clue: Easter hanging decorations, glass eggs, a variation on the theme of Christmas tree baubles. Second clue: Easter pulling crackers (a staple on the British Christmas dinner table), with trinkets inside.

Now, for years the shops have been full of chocolate eggs and little yellow chicks and bunnies at Easter. But this is different. What’s going on?

I don’t think this is evidence of a swing back to celebrating Easter as an event of religious significance. But I don’t think this is evidence of a growing material exploitation of previously Christian events, either.

Crackers belong, quite specifically, at a celebratory, gathered-family meal table. The message is, let’s take an opportunity to get together, over a special meal – perhaps roast lamb, rather than roast turkey – and be family. Let’s make a stand against the pressure to put our career ahead of our children. It ties into a campaign some of the UK’s celebrity chefs have been endorsing, to reclaim Sunday lunch as a time when the whole family gets together and catches up with each other’s news; where everyone gets the opportunity to share something – the trials and triumphs of the week – with the group. It’s not, “Let’s go to church on Easter Sunday!” But it is, intuitively, let’s be church on Easter Sunday – because church is, in its most fundamental sense, gathering around a meal table, giving thanks, and each one sharing something, contributing, in turn. They just need someone to affirm that impulse, interpret it for them, and point to the possibility of a fuller experience…someone to help make connections between a small experience and a big story, which helps us know who we are…

Decorations are to do with transforming a home, adding a symbolic dimension to the everyday, the familiar. Our homes look different at Christmas; but it wouldn’t work if we kept the decorations up all year round. In part, I suspect that the message this Easter is, let’s not allow the global recession to bring our mood down; just as, in part, the message of our Christmas decorations is, let’s not allow the short days, where it never really gets light, to bring our mood down. But the symbols are not random. They point back, to a story forgotten by the conscious memory, but recalled by the subconscious folk memory. One of the most common symbols this Easter would appear to be flowers. Jesus had some things to say about the flowers of the field, which would seem to me to be especially pertinent at a time where the unprecedented financial buffer-zone we have built up between us and the rawness of life - and death – is being shaken…

What the shops tell me this Easter is that people are looking around for a story that will help them make sense of life. The church, it seems to me, has two options. We can complain that our story has been stolen and devalued. Or, like Philip with the Ethiopian, we can ask, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

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