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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Keeping Easter religious

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, the principal feast of the Holy Resurrection and the most important day in the Christian calendar. According to Wikipedia, the annual celebration of Easter had become normative in the church by the 2nd century. However, the English word "Easter" itself has pagan roots -- an etymology that foreshadows the syncretism we see in Easter today.

Given a theological understanding of Easter as establishing new life, it's not surprising that traditional pagan fertility symbols like flowers, eggs, and rabbits have been used for longer than anyone can remember to communicate the Easter message metaphorically.

But at some point, commercialism intruded into Easter just as it did into Christmas and All Saints (Halloween) -- which have become largely an opportunity to sell merchandise. With Easter, the commercialism is much more targeted at chocolates, baskets, jellybeans, and so forth.

I read recently a long article about Dunkin Brands, the holding company for the Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins franchises. Unfortunately I lost the bookmark to the article, but I found a summary of it in another blog. The context is that Baskin Robbins is highly successful and widespread in Japan. An executive at Dunkin Brands said that he was anxious to introduce Easter to the Japanese; by introduce, of course, he meant merchandising not evangelism.

I can't blame Baskin Robbins for making a buck; the United States certainly needs repatriation of profits earned overseas. But I hope that our observances of Easter always allow for a priority of religious expression.