What does Easter mean today? Undeniably the meaning of Easter changed over the centuries. Has the arrival of postmodernity turned it into a meaningless holiday, or is it still an important festival?
When Christianity spread in the first centuries of our era, it eradicated or assimilated pagan traditions. Although it brought a new meaning to old celebration, it did not necessarily alter their form. It was a very pragmatic and clever practice, as it was simply easier to convince people to celebrate the anniversary of the crucifixion of Christ if that happened to resemble the rituals of Ostara.
Now, we could argue, the post-modernity does the same to Christianity. Christian festivals are still there, but the meaning is different. Easter has become the time to meet with family, munch on some chocolate eggs, or hang out in a pub; it’s not necessarily spent by contemplating Christ’s death and his resurrection.
Is that wrong? Is that something we should regret? Some interpret this change of meaning as synonymous with the fact that traditions are dying out – that people forget about their values, and the valuable old is replaced by the meaningless new. It is more difficult to realise that meanings of rituals and practices are not fixed. They have always changed and will continue to change in order to stay relevant in an ever evolving society. Each change should be studied on its own terms and in its own context. To explain why I think Easter, even in its secularised form, is still meaningful and important, I have to go back to Benedict Anderson’s theory of imagined community. Anderson claimed that there are no tangible ties between all members of a nation. The nation consists of people of different financial status, educated to different levels, or with different political views – people who may have absolutely nothing in common. We are all bound together by different external factors such as official history, traditions, or even the national football team. Easter is certainly one of the factors that contribute to the maintenance of social solidarity within the nation. Knowing that millions of people all over the country do exactly what we do at exactly the same time (even if said activity is as trivial as munching on a chocolate egg) creates a sense of unity – an imagined community. And so Easter after Easter, however commercialised the celebrations, we continue to perpetuate the connections that bind us together.