According to a recent newspaper report, the heads of the world’s major Christian denominations are trying to reach agreement on a fixed day for Easter. If they succeed, a dispute dating back more than 1600 years will be laid to rest, and Easter will fall on the second or third Sunday in April, instead of depending on the date of the ecclesiastical full moon, as decreed in AD325 at the Council of Nicaea.
That’s the end of the historical bit. I promise. Well, the photo accompanying the report showed a large hot cross bun which, the caption said, is traditionally served at Easter. Not any more, I thought, recalling the shocking moment before Christmas at my local supermarket when I noticed hot cross buns displayed alongside mince pies. What’s that, I wondered, feeling cross if not hot – buy one Christian holiday, get one free? Can’t the retail trade show a little more patience in its relentless push to sell us stuff we neither need nor want well ahead of its time?
Well no, it can’t. After all, a colourful leaflet reminding me of the imminence of Christmas came through my letter box in mid-July last year. It happened to be a sweltering day, and if the pot-bellied idiot, I mean Father Christmas, ho-hoing on the leaflet had materialized, I would have cheerfully wrung his neck. The only positive by-product of this indecent haste – positive for us, bullied consumers, not for the retail moguls – is that by early October the idea of shopping for Christmas becomes so boring that one can reduce it to a bare minimum.
Yet barely were we out of Christmas. in fact the decorations were still in place at my local supermarket, when the wholesale attack by Easter bunnies began, complete with edible treats guaranteed to worsen the national obesity crisis. How demeaning this high-calorie rubbish was for the original Easter rabbits, those pre-Christian cult animals that accompanied Freya, the Nordic goddess of Spring, carrying her luggage as she re-emerged from the mountain cave of winter. But who remembers them, or that the traditional Easter eggs – not the milk chocolate ones – were originally fertility symbols? Not so long ago in some Continental countries hand-painted eggs were handed by village girls to visiting young men who in return sprinkled them with cheap perfume; oh dear, just how obvious can folklore get?
Oops, I almost forgot: after New Year’s Day and before the bunnies, we were ordered by the retail trade to get ready for Valentine’s Day on February 14, and buy champagne, caviar, jewellery, or, as the bare minimum, a decent Valentine card for our love. Here’s again a colossal misunderstanding; St. Valentinus of Rome was a holy man, totally uninterested in romantic love. Imprisoned during the persecution of Christians, he healed his jailer’s daughter and wrote her a letter before his execution, signing it “your Valentine”. Which is how we are supposed to sign ours today. That day could be a lovely, gentle feast to brighten up dreary February, if only the merchandising people didn’t make such a racket about it from January 2nd onwards. (All this notwithstanding, I do hope someone will send me a Valentine this year…)
We are being rushed into shopping early for every possible “special” day . But having used up Mother’s and Father’s celebration, aren’t the marketeers running out of excuses for selling us stuff? Of course there are grandparents and pets, but not everybody has either of those; nor can I think of anything that would have an inescapable relevance for everybody. Except – rather hard to sell, I fear – resistible occasions, such as entering old age or leaving this world altogether. Those will need considerable finesse, to convince likely customers without frightening them – more or less all of us, come to think of it.
But if anyone is already working on a suitable leaflet, urging us to buy the right kind of sustainable, responsibly sourced, possibly organic wherewithal for our final purchases, please don’t send me one.
Not yet, anyway.