Easter means more than just a chocolate eggs-travaganza

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Hooded penitents from ‘Cristo de los Angeles’ brotherhood take part in a traditional annual Holy Week procession in Toledo, Spain for Easter. Should we take the religious element of Easter more seriously here?
FS
Hooded penitents from ‘Cristo de los Angeles’ brotherhood take part in a traditional annual Holy Week procession in Toledo, Spain for Easter. Should we take the religious element of Easter more seriously here?

On Sunday morning, just as the sun comes up, more than 100 people are expected to gather in Carlisle cemetery to mark the most important date in the Christian calendar.

None of them are more likely to stay in bed because the National Trust has dropped the word “Easter” from one of its events.

It is almost 20 years now since Carlisle’s Easter “sunrise services” began. They were founded by the Rev Canon John Libby, former vicar of St James’s church in Denton Holme, and bring together Christians from all denominations in the city.

A short service begins at 6.30am and is followed at 7am by breakfast at the St James parish centre for the worshippers.

John believes the cemetery setting is appropriate for two reasons.

 Rev Canon John Libby

Rev Canon John Libby

“It’s a high point,” he says. “You can see the sun rising over the Pennines and casting light over the Lakeland fells.”

The other is because it recalls a verse from the gospel of St Luke. The women who are looking for Jesus’s body in a graveyard are asked: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

The point of Easter to Christians is that they believe Jesus isn’t among the dead – but rose from them.

So in many ways it’s much more important for them than Christmas.

“The death and the resurrection of Jesus over those three days are the absolute core of the gospel,” he says.

“It’s not celebrated as much as Christmas culturally. The birth of the Saviour is easier to understand than His death and resurrection.

“But we believe Easter is the more significant religious occasion.”

For years there have been complaints about how both these religious occasions have becomes opportunities to sell us more – whether cards, presents or chocolate eggs.

This Easter the religious ingredient seemed to be marginalised further, when the National Trust and confectioners Cadbury decided to rebrand their annual “Easter Egg Trail” as the “Great British Egg Hunt” – removing “Easter” from its name.

Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the move as “absolutely ridiculous”. Other politicians and religious leaders have agreed.

But John doesn’t see it as any great threat.

“I think it’s regrettable that the National Trust is doing this,” he says.

“There’s an underlying appreciation of faith in this country that the secular priorities have missed.

“But I can’t see it making a massive difference to the community of faith. Those who view Easter as significant will celebrate it as profoundly as ever.

“Those who view it as a time for eating chocolate are welcome to that – self included! But it would be even more rewarding if it provoked further reflection.”

 Kate Webb

Kate Webb

Kate Webb is a humanist celebrant and has no objection to a holiday at this time of year. But she believes that no one religion should have an established position in Britain.

“There are lots of different creeds in this country, with their different festivals, and I think that’s a good thing,” says Kate, from Alston.

“Some Jewish friends invited me to their Passover meal. It’s a holy time for Sikhs. Why don’t we have a holiday for Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, or Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement?”

She adds: “Humanists believe that life is the here and now and we should make the best of it, not just for ourselves but for people around us. So any holiday is a chance to do that, to spend time with friends and family.”

And this is a great time of year for a holiday, she adds. “It seems to me that spring is a time to celebrate life, and the egg is the symbol of the renewal of life.

“I’m not sure what it has to do with the Christian festival of Easter.

Kate dislikes the commercialism of the season but points out: “That’s the way the world is today. There may be less concentration on the religious aspect of it, but I imagine children still learn about that at school.”

And she doesn’t have a problem with that. “All stories that last for thousands of years have something to offer. They wouldn’t last long if they didn’t speak to people.”

According to the gospels the crowds who had welcomed Jesus later shouted: “Crucify him, crucify him.” So she argues: “It makes a point about mob rule and what it does.”

In religious terms Easter is a time of new beginnings. In Cumbria it is also regarded as the beginning of the tourism season.

The county received almost 43 million visitors throughout 2015. They spent £2.62 billion and provided employment for 35,482 full-time equivalent posts – about a fifth of the county’s employment.

 Ian Stephens

Ian Stephens

Cumbria Tourism has no figures for visitor numbers during Easter, but managing director Ian Stephens says: “The Easter holidays are traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for Cumbria’s tourism sector, with lots of attractions and accommodation providers gearing up to welcome families wanting to make the most of the school break.

“From Carlisle’s Easter International Market and Taste Cumbria in Kirkby Lonsdale, to Ullswater’s Daffodil Festival and Bowness Blues Festival, there are plenty of events taking place across the county to encourage people to get out and enjoy the best of what Cumbria has to offer.”

Alex Morgan, of Wordsworth House at Cockermouth, says: “Easter does tend to be a busy time for us. We’re open mid-March to the end of October. It can be a little bit quiet for us until Easter. It feels like the start of the tourist season.

“The date of Easter doesn’t make a great difference. There seems to be a spike in family visits, dictated by the school holidays.

“We always do better if it’s raining. A good sunny Easter might be something everybody else wants but we do rain dances at this time of year!”

Alex expects this Easter to be much busier than last year’s, if only because the A591 between Grasmere and Keswick was closed until the middle of May after being damaged by Storm Desmond.

 Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan

“2016 wasn’t a great year for Cockermouth. I hope this Easter people will come to Cockermouth, not just Wordsworth House.”

Wordsworth House is owned by the National Trust. Alex denies that the organisation has ever downplayed Easter. “Easter is all over the National Trust website and all over everything we do. It’s an important time of year for us, a busy time of year.”

A National Trust spokesperson told The Cumberland News: “It’s nonsense to suggest the National Trust is downplaying the significance of Easter.

“Nothing could be further from the truth.

“We host a huge programme of events, activities and walks to bring families together to celebrate this very special time of year. A casual glance at our website will see dozens of references to Easter throughout.

“Our Easter events include our partnership with Cadbury, which has been running Easter egg hunts with us for 10 years.

“They’ve proved consistently popular with our members and visitors. As part of its wider marketing activity at Easter, Cadbury will always lead on the branding and wording for its campaigns.”

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