Religion is a hard subject to pin down, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find a feature titled “On Easter, Symbolism and the Exuberance of Spring” in the Dining & Wine section of The New York Times.
I am not a regular food-pages reader, but it appears that the goal of writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ piece is to explain the mythical and religious symbols found in Italian and Mediterranean cooking this time of year. Thus, we read:
As the dull winter landscape of the Mediterranean breaks into fresh green life, the exuberance of holiday feasting neatly matches the exuberance of nature. The magic and mystery of Easter and Passover are firmly grounded in the realities of a Mediterranean springtime. The artichokes, asparagus, young fava beans and fresh green peas on the Easter table reflect that, as do the eggs that have piled up, uneaten throughout Lent, in the family larder.
I am sure many readers will be surprised to find that eggs have piled up in Catholic kitchens, since it would be hard to find many modern Catholics in the West who observe the ancient Lenten fast that avoids all meat and all dairy. However, this tradition is followed in the Eastern churches, both Orthodox and Catholic.
However, let us note that this reference does demonstrate that Jenkins appears to know something about the fasting traditions of the Lenten season, since she mentions those eggs in the first place.
In fact, there are all kinds of intelligent and appropriate religious and biblical references scattered throughout this feature story. Bravo. This is why it is rather interesting to bump into the following descriptions of the Christian and Jewish seasons that provide the context for the story, in the first place:
Even for those who no longer observe the traditional 40-day fast, Holy Week brings a palpable sense of anticipation. This Sunday, unusually, Western and Orthodox Easter celebrations fall on the same day, while Passover is observed throughout Holy Week and Easter weekend.
If Passover celebrates the resurrection of a people from the death of slavery in Egypt, Easter affirms the resurrection of individual souls. But both reflect ancient beliefs, lodged deep in the Mediterranean psyche, about the resurrection of the natural world after winter’s death.
OK, raise your hand — or click your mouse — if you think that most readers of a national newspaper will find this description of the meaning of Easter a bit, well, lacking. Also, raise your hand if you think that most synagogue-attending Jews will find it strange that the God of Moses was left out of the Passover equation.
I suggest a visit to a reference site — the “E” page at ReligionStylebook.org — offered by the professionals at the Religion Newswriters Association. There one can find the following definition of the most important day of the Christian year.
Easter: The major Christian holy day. It marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead three days after his crucifixion. In the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21. If the full moon falls on a Sunday, Easter is the next Sunday. As a result, Easter may fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. The Eastern churches generally celebrate the holiday later than most other Christian churches, although sometimes the two celebrations fall on the same Sunday.
The Times reference isn’t totally wrong, of course. It just, well, misses the point.