Jerusalem is the heart and home of Easter. It is here that the action happened. The city is steeped in the narrative of Jesus carrying his cross through the Old City streets to the point of his crucifixion and death. You already know how the story ends, three days later the stone outside his tomb was rolled away and his body was gone.
As a child, Easter for us meant painting hard-boiled eggs and rolling them outside until they smashed and were eaten by our granny’s dog. That was our interpretation and I have very fond memories of it. We were vaguely aware of the Christian story, and very happy to get on board with the chocolate eggs, hot cross buns and school holidays. Never did I think we’d ever be living so close to the place where the original stone rolled.
Every year thousands of people from around the world flock to Jerusalem for Easter and it’s a riot of prayer, song and celebration. Each Christian denomination brings their own traditions and for Orthodox Christians this includes a different calendar and celebrating Easter a week later. Last year we had not long arrived in the city and weren’t able to take full advantage of the spectacle. This year, sadly it is all cancelled.
It’s been reported that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has not been closed over Easter since the plague hit Jerusalem in 1349. Not only is this devastating for the many thousands of people wanting to worship there, but it’s also a hard blow for the many businesses that depend on visitors to make their income.
I spoke to a Christian friend who has grown up in Jerusalem to see how this year would be different. She said that Easter for her family is a ‘time of prayer and reflection’. I asked her what her favourite Easter traditions were. She said, ‘during Easter I really enjoy attending the various Services: Maundy Thursday and washing of the feet (which actually symbolically happens during the service where the Bishop washes people’s feet)’. She also usually attends services on Good Friday where the congregation retrace Jesus’ final walk along the Via Delarosa in the Old City, as well as services on Saturday and Easter Sunday.
I loved hearing about the other traditions that usually mark Easter for her family. She goes on to say ‘My favourite tradition is making Easter cookies. Usually my mother in law makes the best cookies and she makes a lot! (she uses 9 kilos of semolina). You need many people to work on this as each individual cookie is made by hand filled with dates, pistachio or walnuts and then ‘pinched’ with special tongs to make patterns. We gather at my mother in law’s house and enjoy making cookies together for several hours.
Colouring eggs is another nice tradition that I enjoy. Usually my sisters and I colour the eggs together. Sometimes we go to my parents’ house in Jericho and have a picnic as well as colour the eggs. Easter lunch is also a special time for friends and family’.
I then asked how Easter will be different this year.
She responded, ‘Unfortunately, none of the things I described above will take place this year. Services will be broadcasted via Facebook and that is it.
When asked how she feels about this she said: ‘I feel sad, but I remind myself that this is happening across the whole world and we have to stay at home to help contain the virus and save lives. I am also reminded of many people who live under severe access and movement restrictions like people in Gaza and other people in the world who do not enjoy freedom of religion’.
I’m sure many people had other plans for where they would have liked to have been this weekend. Despite this, I hope you’ve managed to find some fun and perhaps a return to some simpler pleasures. We painted and rolled eggs. We baked fresh bread and the sun came out. All things to be thankful for!
How did you celebrate Easter this year and what traditions are important to you? I’d also love to hear from anyone that will be celebrating Orthodox Easter next weekend. Happy Easter to all!