MY EASTER STORY
My two biggest heroes growing up in the sixties were Jesus Christ and The Beatles.
What did Jesus and The Beatles have in common, other than the fact that radical Christians wanted to crucify John Lennon in 1966 for saying in an interview that he thought most teenagers would rather go to a Beatle concert than to go to Sunday mass in church? I shall reveal the answer.
And the answers to other such pressing questions as- why is it a terrible idea to crawl under a parked truck?
Where is the best place to hide to surprise the Easter Bunny Easter morning?
Why does life get better as we age?
Why should we try to be nice to people?
Yes, this short story reveals all of this and more. So, as we now practice being perfect strangers staying at home, give me a little of your precious time and I shall now tell you a tale.
This is actually a true story, about how I met the Easter Bunny way back in 1963. (1963- I know, most of you were not even born yet. )
When I look back on my childhood, it almost seems like a warm, breezy, sunny day. It flew by in a flash and of course now, it was very long ago.
So much happened to us in those defining years, that much of it got lost in the translation once life picked up speed and left us with no more time to reflect on the yesterday that just passed.
Fortunately, most of the bad things fade away in our memories, and most of the good experiences remain, and they probably even appear better now than they really were..
And sometimes, the really special moments are completely forgotten, until something random happens, and it reminds us.
I was shopping in a grocery store last week, and as I passed the empty shelves where normally toilet paper lie, I overheard something cool. Despite the six feet distance between us, I overheard a cute conversation between a little girl and her mother.
“And the Easter Bunny will bring me colored eggs and chocolate eggs on Easter?”
“Yes he will, and he will hide them in a basket and you will have to find them.”
“Why will he hide them?”
“Because it makes it more fun.”
“More fun for who? Why does he put everything in a basket?”
“He does not want the eggs to roll away.”
“Roll away where? Why does he give me a chocolate bunny?”
“Because they are a special tribute to him.”
“Really? Why chocolate? But how does the Easter Bunny even get into the house?”
“Now now, that is enough questions for today, in another week you will see for yourself.”
This was the day before Palm Sunday. As a kid I loved Palm Sunday, the Sunday directly before Easter, when the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is still celebrated in many Christian churches with processions in which palm fronds are carried by children. As a kid, we too received Palm fronds, which I always hung up on my bedroom wall after mass, where they remained until they dried up and fell off.
But it was not Palm Sunday that brought me back and reminded me of this mysterious memory. It was the little girls thought-provoking questions.
I flashed back to a memory I had almost forgotten, I had not thought about it in years. I suddenly recalled that once I also had sincere questions about the Easter Bunny, and I had decided at one point to find the answers.
That is how it came to be that on Good Friday way back in 1963 that I decided I was going to meet the Easter Bunny.
I was only five years old at the time, but I had already pretty much figured out just who the Easter Bunny was.
Yet at five I could not figure out why that day was called Good Friday. I was raised in a strict catholic family, so I knew it was the day commemorating the brutal crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He was beaten, whipped and murdered.
So what could possibly be good about it?
A few years later when I made my first communion I learned that in this case the term good meant “pious” or “holy”. Father Ritchie even told me it could have just been a mistake, a corruption of “God Friday” that people misused.
People were kind of stupid that way.
When I got to Germany years later I discovered the Germans called it “Karfreitag”, “Kar” being taken from high German “kara”- meaning “grieve”‚ or “mourn”, and of course Freitag is “Friday”
So it was Mourning Friday. Funny that the Germans got it right.
But in 1963 this was all meaningless to me. I was a little boy on a mission. I was going to debunk the Easter Bunny myth.
And leave it up to those Germans, once again, The Easter Bunny itself was a German folkloric figure.
Historically, the custom was first mentioned in 1682. Some Germans abstained from eating eggs during Lent. Yet those horny chickens kept laying eggs. The only way to keep them from spoiling and thus being wasted was to boil them. The boiled eggs were then used to break the fast.
Naturally they were a special dish, thus they were colorfully decorated as part of the celebrations. Many German Christians even dyed their Easter eggs dark red, the color of blood, in recognition of the blood of the sacrificed Christ and, of the renewal of life in springtime.
Back in 1963 the Easter Bunny wasn’t just bringing us colored eggs, he was also bringing us a basket full of sweet chocolate too.
And I had seen through this sweet charade.
The date reads April 13, 1963. Saturday night, the big moment had finally arrived, the moment I had been planning all weekend.
I silently snuck out of my bed, and began my slow descent of the stairs. Seemingly, it took me forever to get down the wooden stairs in our house. I knew most of the spots where they creaked, and I avoided these traps like my life depended on it, which in my mind, it did! Dad would have killed me if he found me creeping around out of bed this late.
It was way past midnight, and the house had been still for over an hour after Mom and Dad finally went to bed.
It was Easter Eve, Saturday night, and tomorrow was Easter Sunday, the most important and oldest festival of the Christian Church, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As you probably know, there is no exact date for this important commemoration of Jesus rising from the dead. Easter Sunday is held (in the Western Church) between March 21 and April 25, on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox.
That is pretty easy to remember, right?
And since the full moon was four days ago, I was actually on my way downstairs to the family living room to meet the Easter Bunny in person.
Yes, I had seen through the Easter Bunny thing they had told us about. I mean seriously, how could a single bunny hit every single house in town, and drop off all that candy? And he had everything packed in wicket baskets! How did he even carry it? It was absurd.
But I knew Santa Claus could do this, and in the dead of winter too! But we kids knew Santa had the flying reindeer and his elves to help him. Santa was definitely real; I knew that as a fact. of course there was Christmas magic involved too.
Years later while living in Germany I found out that the German “Easter Bunny” originally played the role of a judge too, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behavior at the start of the season of Eastertide.
The Easter Bunny was eventually depicted with clothes. In the legend, the furry creature carries colored eggs in his basket, and also small toys to the homes of children, and as such shows amazing similarities to Santa Claus, or as the Germans called him, Christkind. (Christian Child)
They both brought gifts to children on the night before their respective holidays.
Could there be a better way to persuade kids to behave?
We were really poor while I was growing up and thus, my parents could never afford all those toys we found under the festively decorated pine tree at Christmas. It just wasn’t possible.
We were so poor, my parents could only afford to buy us new shoes once a year, and this always occurred right before Easter so we could show them off in the church.
So even to a five year old, Santa Claus bringing us presents seemed perfectly logical, because it was the only solution. Poverty. That is why I really believed in Santa Claus.
But the Easter Bunny? No, I don’t think so.
I knew there was no Easter Bunny, just as I knew there was no Tooth Fairy.
The year before I had woken up as my dear Mom crept to my bed and carefully removed the baby tooth I had lost, which I had carefully wrapped up in a Kleenex, and then she slipped a whole dollar bill in its place under my pillow.
No, it was not a miraculous bunny wabbit dropping off candy and eggs to us kids. But- I knew who it really was.
It was Jesus Christ.
I remember the exact moment when the truth hit me too, I was sitting in the balcony next to the pipe organ of The French Church during mass just staring at the bright sunshine shimmering through the gorgeous colored stained windows behind the alter.
It was Good Friday. I was sad, sitting there in church knowing that Jesus was beaten, tortured and crucified on this very day many years ago. They murdered him. I was daydreaming, trying to forget about this.
Suddenly it just popped in my head.
Jesus was the Easter Bunny.
Well, not really a bunny of course, but HE was the one who passed out all the treats. He did not have to carry anything, he just “made it happen”, house after house.
It made so much sense to me, as a dreamy five year old.
He wanted to give us sweets on his very special day. The wonderful day that he returned to the living!
My mom used to always say that Easter was the holiday that would make or break most Christians. There was no room for a wishy-washy answer here, either Jesus rose again from the dead or he did not.
What an splendid way to celebrate with us kids- give us something as awesome and rare as candy, and we were even allowed to eat some before Sunday mass!
Jesus loved children; Mom said it was because we were still pure and our souls were innocent.
I silently reached the living room, and crept on tiptoes across the wooden floor. I had decided on the perfect place to hide. I found our closet in the living room, opened the door, and stepped in, not shutting the door completely. I could see out into the living room.
It was ghostly pale, lit only by the golden light coming in from the street light on the corner. I could see the couch though, and that was important. The Easter baskets always were hidden behind the couch.
I sat down, and waited for Jesus.
I could not wait to meet him. I was a little nervous about surprising him like I had planned, but I had a feeling that he would not be mad at me. From everything I had been told about him and from everything I had read about him in Sunday School and in church, he seemed like a pretty cool guy.
I had an important question for him too. Last year my grandfather had died on my birthday. Everyone was so sad, and this on my birthday!
This dying thing was new for me. Death really shook me up. The thought that Mom, Dad, my brother and sister would all someday die, and no longer be here at all really scared me badly.
Then I realized that it would happen to me too. The fact that I would someday no longer be here seemed impossible, but I never saw my grandfather again, so it must be true.
Death. I could not think about anything else for days after it happened. It was really scary.
I wanted to ask Jesus why we had to die.
What was the point of being here at all then? Why couldn’t we just go straight to Heaven, why did we have this detour here on Earth?
I had asked Mom (I could not ask my Dad this question, he knew a lot about the Red Sox and fixing things and stuff like that, but he did not go to church with us on Sundays.)
Mom had told me that life was a test, and we had to be good to get to Heaven.
That sounded pretty bogus to me. That was just like what Mrs. Hilton, my teacher from my Kindergarten, always did with us. She would always promise us a reward for being good, but actually we just did not get slapped, like we did when we were bad. The promised reward for behaving never actually came.
But, I also wanted to thank Jesus.
Last year I had been literally run over by a beer truck down the street. It had crushed one of my legs and missed my pelvis by less than an inch, which would have instantly killed me.
There was a small convenience store (In reality a liquor store) two houses away from where I lived. A friend and I were playing catch with a rubber ball. He threw it high, too high for me to catch, and the ball sailed over my outstretched arms and then rolled under a beer truck parked in front of the store.
Like the fearless little five year old boy I was, I thoughtlessly crawled under the truck to retrieve the ball.
And sure enough, the truck pulled away from the curb just as I was crawling underneath. The back wheel ran over one of my legs. Crushed it actually. I was later told it was not a pretty sight.
That must be when the shock mercifully kicked in, because I have no memory at all of what happened next.
I woke up in a hospital.
I have a vivid memory of lying in a bed in the hospital right after it happened and Mom and Dad were standing at my bedside.
Mom was hysterical and praying out loud, “Please Jesus, don’t let him die.”
Dad, ever the rock, calmly said, “He is not going to die, and he is not crippled either, he will walk again.”
I was off in La La Land. (I was doped up on some very strong painkillers) I couldn’t feel anything at all, but I could hear them talking, like it was from far, far away. Mom kept asking Jesus not to take me.
Well, he must have listened to her too, because I did not die, and I certainly did walk again, and run too.
I felt I really had to thank Jesus for that. I really thought walking was pretty great! I thought being alive was wicked good too.
I could hear my father’s antique Regulator clock ticking away on the wall behind the RCA TV. I peeked out again into the empty room, saw nothing, then I leaned back against the wall. I had no idea what time it was.
Mom and Dad had given me a Timex watch for my birthday, which I thought was tremendous in the beginning, until my mother started telling me to be home at a certain time every day. She said now that I had my own watch, I would always know what time it was. I could be on time. Hmmmm.
The next day I somehow “lost” the watch playing at Marches Hill and that was the end of my punctuality.
I wondered what Jesus would look like, would he be in a white robe? Did he still have long hair? The great beard? How would his voice sound? Deep like my father’s?
I was trying to think of a joke to tell him, because I wanted to hear him laugh. One of the funniest things about grownups was all the different, peculiar ways that they laughed.
My father had a hearty laugh, which I noticed was much louder when he was with his friends in his furniture repair shop.
I thought I could tell Jesus my parrot joke, because my mother laughed like crazy when I told her it.
A magician was hired to provide entertainment on a cruise ship. He had a smart ass parrot with him in his act. The parrot usually messed up every number. He always revealed the tricks in between, saying things like- “The card is in his left sleeve!” Or “The rabbit is in his right shoe!” One day the ship sank. The Magician and his parrot saved themselves on a floating piece of wood. For three days they drifted aimlessly on the open sea and for these three days the parrot did not say anything, not a single word. Finally, the bird broke his silence and said, “Well, I hate to admit it, but I give up. How did you make the ship disappear ?! “
I remember how my mother laughed when I told her the joke. It was very different from my father. My mother giggled more and would even cover up her mouth if she laughed loudly
I had been told that I laughed like a girl, whatever that meant. Someone told me not to worry about it; my voice would change when I started growing a beard. So yeah, Jesus must have a deep laugh.
I waited a long, long time. My thoughts were all over the place, then- they slowed down and finally grew weary. My eyes were slowly but surely closing.
I had reached that strange and beautiful place where we pause in every evening before slipping off into a real deep slumber. It was also the place where we could hear the voice of our own soul.
The room was warm, and filled with a dazzling golden light. Jesus had arrived. I did not have to surprise him, he had come to me in the closet.
Turns out, I was way too excited to ask him any of my questions. I was too overwhelmed to say anything at all.
And he was not in flowing, white robes, but he was wearing blue jeans and a Beatles T-shirt, and of course, he was barefoot.
And his smile was the finest thing I had ever set eyes on, and even though he did not say a word, he made me feel comfortable.
And then there was his eyes, they were not blue! They were dark brown, and they were so full of life.
I was at a age where it was hard to look an adult directly in the eye, but with Jesus, I could not take my eyes off of his. They were the warmest eyes I had ever seen.
I finally began telling him jokes. I started with the magician and the parrot. He laughed and laughed, and so did I.
We continued to laugh even after I had no more jokes to tell. We just laughed carelessly and I felt as good as I had ever felt in my life.
I felt his unconditional love for me. Jesus loved me.
Without even asking Jesus about the detour to heaven down here on earth, I seemed to have been given the answer from him.
His message was as marvelous as it was simple.
Laugh often, enjoy life and give love.
My eyes were heavy now. He continued to smile as he leaned forward and gently set his hand upon my head. and softly whispered, “ Love one another as I have loved you. Be nice.”
I suddenly remembered I wanted to thank him, and began to do so, but he just smiled and then he was gone. And so was I.
From far away I heard the sounds of my father’s footsteps heading up the stairs. Then I heard even more footsteps, and muffled voices. Then many steps came down the stairs.
My eyes slowly opened and I saw the crack of daylight through the closet door from the living room. I was momentarily confused, and I looked around, and found myself alone again. I sighed.
Then I heard the voices clearly. It was the voice of my mother.
“I won’t ask you again. Where is your brother?”
“You heard her, answer your mother!”
That was the voice of my father, and he sounded pretty angry. I quickly sat up straight.
“He said he was going to wait up for the Easter Bunny. He said he knew who it was.”
Now my brother was speaking. I didn’t feel betrayed, I knew, you did not ignore my father when he asked you something.
Besides, I didn’t tell my brother that the Easter Bunny was really Jesus Christ. I wanted to surprise him. I was going to tell him after I spoke with Jesus.
“Are you kidding me? Well, why didn’t you stop him?”
“I would have, but I fell asleep. But you know how he is when he gets these crazy ideas in his head.”
“So where is he?” Dad asked, and I did not hear the ensuing answer.
I assume my brother just pointed at the closet, because seconds later the closet was completely filled with bright light as the door slowly swung open.
I blinked as the bright light momentarily blinded me. I sat there, suddenly quite scared. “Blaine! What do you think you are doing?” my father yelled down at me.
“Oh will you stop it, be nice.” My mother said, and then she stepped in front of my father and smiled at me.
I relaxed. The amused looks on their faces calmed me down. Mom, Dad and my brother were standing there smiling away as they looked in at me.
Mom came to the doorway and reached out her hand, and she helped me up. “Well Blaine, did you meet the Easter Bunny?”
For a second, I was not even sure. But I was sure of the answer she wanted to hear. “No Mom, I fell asleep. I didn’t see him.”
“Well then, I guess you don’t know where he hid your nest, now do you. Why don’t you come out and look for your Easter basket.”
I found it behind the couch.
By the time 1964 rolled around, and The Beatles had also invaded America, I knew Mom was the Easter Bunny in our house. She bought the goodies and she hid the baskets.
And she also brought The Beatles first album into our house.
So Mom turned me onto Jesus Christ and The Beatles. Thanks mom.
Years later living in Germany I found out that the idea of an egg-giving Bunny travelled to the U.S. in the 18th century. Protestant German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the “Osterhase” Hase means “hare”, not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the “Easter Bunny” indeed is a hare.
And again, according to the legend, only good children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their caps and bonnets before Easter.
Eventually, this custom spread throughout all of the USA, and became increasingly nicer along the way, the hare became a cute bunny, the “be good or else” bit slipped away completely.
And of course, eventually the Easter Bunny had virtually nothing at all to do with Jesus Christ.
That made me a little sad. In this fast paced, violent and immoral world we live in, a bit more reflection on the teachings of Jesus could only do us all good.
You did not have to be religious to have spiritual thoughts. You do not have to believe in an old man in the sky looking down upon us to be spiritual. You just have to be open minded.
For example, we all could spend more time thinking about Love, true unconditional love.
Jesus dealt with many aspects of human life but the one that he spent the longest on was the need for love.
His focus was not just on the love for our friends and family, but something much more challenging, a love that is universal.
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
In other words, be nice.
I didn’t have anything against the Easter Bunny as a kid, nor do I today.
But, I do think I was really onto something though in 1963 when I went looking to meet the real Easter Bunny. I still believe I was right too, the Easter Bunny is Jesus Christ.
My brother teased me about the closet incident for a few weeks, but it passed. The memory of the night passed too. I didn’t think about it for years.
Kids are much more mindful in their day-to-day doings, and life just kept amazing me and I just kept living it.
Now, half a century later, these are the magnificent type of memories that leave me with that warm feeling of having experienced life through the eyes of a child.
How easy it was to believe in anything. How simple it was to get lost in the wonder of it all. And I ask myself, was it a bad thing being told there was such a thing as an Easter Bunny?
I have to say, no. These childhood myths helped prepare me to deal with life as an adult more spiritually.
Let’ face it, Real Life is intense, and love is sincerely lacking.
Being able to believe in the seemingly impossible reminds me that the quality of our lives truly depends on the quality of our beliefs.
I also believed in The Beatles. The Beatles wrote and recorded 213 songs in their short time together. (8 Years) In these songs, the word “You” is sung 2,262 times, the word “I” 1,736 times and the word “LOVE” 1,013 times.
Their message was crystal clear. The Beatles, as did Jesus, preached about love. It went way beyond the song, “All You need Is Love”.
In fact, the last lyric The Beatles sung on the last song they recorded together was- “And in the end, the love you take, equals the love, you make”.
As with my experiences with Jesus, I found listening to Beatle music was indeed spiritual, and the overall message, as with Jesus, was always positive.
There is nothing wrong with peace, love and understanding.
As a child, I knew instinctively that life was indeed a miracle, a wonder. It was not the near death experience of getting run over by the truck either that woke me up, at the time I did not quite understand how close a call that truly was.
I just instinctively knew that life was good. I’m kind of stupid that way.
Now, heading down the home stretch, I feel so fortunate to have reached old age.
All through our life we experience so many ups and downs, we must endure the ultimate loss of our grandparents and our parents, and friends and other family members.
But we also experience the beauty of love, friendship, children and adult joys.
We persevere, we become whole as the seasons pass us by.
I feel more at ease and happy in my life now than I have ever felt.
I know that I am finally reaching the end of my detour here on Earth. I still find myself feeling the wonder and magnificence of it all- again and again.
And so, every Easter I find myself back in that dark closet, happy and content, laughing heartily with Jesus and thanking God that I am still alive.
Happy Easter everyone.