Easter in Buffalo, NY, can be, as in Cleveland, an iffy thing. One year, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips may carpet the ground, and the next, the Easter Parade garb of choice is the parka. Yet in the Easters of my youth, there were certain details that remained inviolate, regardless of what kind of breezes blew at sunrise.
First, though, getting to Easter was a journey, starting with a Tenebrae service, usually held on the Wednesday of Holy Week. The part I remember about it was that they turned all the lights out in the church, then read some prayers while they were turned on again. I thought it was to symbolize Christ being the light of the world. Some churches still do Tenebrae.
Holy Thursday Mass was celebrated in the morning, due to most schools being closed for vacation. And many people took off from work or went in late. The lavish Mass ended the reposing of the Blessed Sacrament in a beautifully decorated side altar and in the stripping of the altar in preparation for Good Friday. Churches were open for adoration of the faithful throughout the day. One of the special practices was to visit seven churches. Since we pretty much walked everywhere back then, and since Irish Catholic South Buffalo had more than enough churches, this resulted in a great combination of exercise and piety. I guess it also got us out of our moms’ hair for a while.
Good Friday hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. It remains the most somber day of the church calendar. I loved—still love--all the rituals that were so different from everyday church.
By noon on Holy Saturday, we were ready to break out the jelly beans, since almost every kid had given up candy. Lent was “officially” over. Some purists carried on their fasting until Easter. I fluctuated. Of course, we dyed eggs, adding decals of lambs and crosses and lilies. (Try and find any of those in your Paas package now!) I’m sure that’s probably why even today, the smell of vinegar makes me think of Easter.
Easter Sunday had its own rituals. No self-respecting female would dare venture out without two items: a hat and a pair of white gloves. We had to wait until after Mass to attack our baskets, which were filled with traditional stuff: marshmallow Peeps; chocolate rabbits, crosses, and chickens; and our favorite special treat, compliments of Mom/Easter Bunny—Fanny Farmer buttercream eggs. They were delicious, not to mention deadly. You could practically get a sugar high just from opening the box. My mom would fix our typical Sunday brunch, the centerpiece of which was a Breakfast Ring, frosted and decorated with jelly beans.
In the afternoon, my friends and I often hiked (sometimes through slush or worse) over to the South Park Conservatory for their Easter display. The huge domed greenhouse smelled heavenly—a mixture of earth and flowers. This was the first, and for a long time, only place I’d ever seen a banana plant.
I’m not sure that we ever ate dinner on Easter, replete as we were with the contents of our Easter baskets. Occasionally, we probably went to our aunt’s house and I guess we must have had ham.
I no longer wear a hat to church on Easter and the white gloves have gone the way of the dinosaur. But I still love this time of year. As Christ’s Resurrection takes center stage, it’s almost as though all the world has now been given permission to burst forth in beauty.