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On Surviving Tough Easter Questions

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

This year, Easter came and went without any hard-core questioning from the kids on the two toughest questions of the spring: 1) Does a giant anthropomorphic rabbit really come to the house to leave us chocolate? And 2) How does the whole resurrection thing work?

I live in a non-religious household, and one that is probably becoming less religious with each passing year. This makes me uncomfortable around Christmas, but given the uplifting tradition of celebrating with friends and family and exchanging thoughtful gifts seems like a good enough reason to partake. And the religious significance of Christmas is simple to explain to children. It's a birthday. (At some point, there may be questions about the finer points of the nativity story, like the virgin birth, but for the most part, it's a straightforward tale.)

But Easter gives me trouble because the celebration, when you take away the bunnies and the peeps and the hidden eggs, honors the complex death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The extraordinary nature of the events of Jesus's last week on earth makes it a holy day and one well worth observing in the Christian world. But for everyone else, the question of what -- exactly -- the celebration is about makes for a tough teachable moment. It's hard not to talk about the resurrection without opening up much bigger discussions. Discussions that have nothing to do with Easter baskets.

I do want to give the kids an appreciation for what Easter really means without a full-scale endorsement of Christianity. The solution I've tried to adopt is to talk about as many different religious holidays as possible to give my oldest some perspective different traditions, helping put the Easters and Christmases in context by discussing them in the same breath as Ramadan or Yom Kippur or Vesak. That's meant a lot of work; comparative religion has never been an area of expertise for me.

I'm curious to get your take on how you separate the secular for the non-secular at these times of year, particularly those of you who are atheistic, agnostic or from a tradition that doesn't get a special holiday aisle at CVS.

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

By Brian Reid |  April 17, 2009; 7:30 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
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How about marking the beginning of spring?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 17, 2009 8:00 AM | Report abuse

I have been reading your posts for the last couple of weeks and mostly have been enjoying them. However, I didn't realize you are raising your children without any religion. Why? I am not super-religious but when each of my parents died over the last 5 years I found a lot of comfort in believing in God. When I have kids I want to raise them with more religion than I was raised with after this experince.

Posted by: sunflower571 | April 17, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

We celebrate the arrival of spring with bunnies, eggs, flowers and a special meal. It is a family tradition. One of the nice parts is that it can be adapted to include Christian Easter celebrations and also those other of other faiths (i.e. Passover).

Posted by: ishgebibble | April 17, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

"That's meant a lot of work; comparative religion has never been an area of expertise for me."

An obvious solution would be to seek out someone for whom comparative religion is an area of expertise, and have them over for dinner. Priests and rabbis love free dinners, usually love to talk about their faiths, and usually know a great deal about other faiths and traditions, and for the most part if you explain to them your aim won't dial up the prosthletizing (sp?) and will focus on the education.

Posted by: 06902 | April 17, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

We are also raising our children in a non-religious household. We have attended services of many faiths and celebrate Muslim, Hindu and Jewish holidays with friends and Christian holidays with our extended family. We have told our girls that as they grow up they can choose for themselves. To us, Easter is about the arrival of Spring and a celebration of new life.

Posted by: thosewilsongirls | April 17, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I'm Jewish and my husband is Catholic and we do everything. We celebrated the Seder and Easter. My oldest (he is 6) recently announced he didn't believe in the Easter Bunny. When asked why, he replied, "I don't believe a Giant Bunny walks around like that - it's just some guy in a suit." When asked, "Then who hides the eggs?" He responded, "The guy in the suit!" Of course! It's no different than Christmas in that respect.

As for difficult questions, we get them all the time. This year I tried to leave the 10 plagues out of the seder (despite the "Passover" name and all) because I new our oldest would burst into tears at the "killing of the first born" part. However, my daughter (age 3) noticed the pictures on the seder plate (which are of the 10 plagues) and asked about them - hence my oldest being really upset and not at all inclined to believe in such a god (not that I could blame him). Then, comes Easter where we explained the how celebration about the rising of Christ. First our oldest declared he didn't believe in the resurrection because that isn't possible. And then wanted to know how the Easter Bunny and the eggs fit into it all. I made some stab at explaining the candy part as being a celebration because people were happy about Jesus rising (remember, I'm the Jewish one). He thought about that for a moment, and then noted that it didn't explain the Bunny. He asked why the Easter Bunny was so happy he gave out so much candy and I didn't have an answer. He soon came up with his own - the Easter Bunny (i.e. the guy in the suit) had been Jesus's best friend. I suppose once you get over the guy dressing up in a giant bunny suit and giving out candy to everyone on Easter, the idea that he has been around since Jesus lived is a no-brainer!

In other words, this whole religious with kids thing is a never ending challenge and yet a wonderful opportunity to understand how our children view the world.

Posted by: cqjudge | April 17, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

You know, it's funny -- we've gotten the Tooth Fairy question, but not the Christmas/Easter question. I suspect because the kids are still pretty young and only notice the big symbols (eggs, bunnies, Santa). Which, um, those don't really make that automatic connection to Jesus, ya know?

We're a mixed household -- I'm agnostic Christian, he's barely-practicing Jewish, my mom is adamant atheist who nevertheless is all over Santa and the Easter Bunny, my SIL is much more observant Jew (well, compared to DH, at least). We're mostly raising them Jewish, but we are exposing them to Christianity as well. So for us, it's pretty easy to answer just with "some people believe. . . ." Sometimes my girl then asks what I believe; sometimes I tell her, sometimes things seem too theoretical/subtle for 7, so I turn the question back on her and get her talking about what she believes -- which is interesting in and of itself for insight into what she's hearing from friends at school.

Posted by: laura33 | April 17, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

"I do want to give the kids an appreciation for what Easter really means without a full-scale endorsement of Christianity."

If what you are looking for is providing information then you do just that, as in "Christians believe X, Jews, Hindus, etc believe X and Y". If you are as comfortable with raising your children in a non-religious household as you say you are, this should not be a problem.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 17, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

this is what wikipedia is for!!!

(not sure if wapo will accept the links. But if you want a quick answer to kids' questions, hit wikipedia first.

Posted by: newslinks1 | April 17, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Hi, Brian-- this is an interesting question, as I've always thought Easter is the most easily secularized of the "Christian" holidays. There's no need to take away the chicks and bunnies and eggs from the holiday if you don't celebrate it as a Christian day; those are ancient symbols of renewed life, and Easter is a wonderful time to celebrate the end of winter and the coming of spring. I think it really can be made as simple as that.

Posted by: MaxineofArc | April 17, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I am really curious about this as well. I am pretty agnostic (my mother is protestant, father jewish) and was raised in a household that was not religious. My husband is catholic, but not really observant. We had our son christened, which I thought was just a nice gesture for his parents. Now, however, he is suggesting he wants our son to have a first communion. I am not really sure I am comfortable with this. Any thoughts on how to deal with these tricky situations?

Posted by: bostonlawyer1 | April 17, 2009 9:54 AM | Report abuse

We also celebrate the beginning of spring. "Some people's belief is rooted in religion; ours is not", is what we say.
Having both been raised Catholic, we are in a position to at least tell them of the Catholic viewpoint and discuss why we no longer follow that viewpoint (when child is older) or have a discussion in general about it.
But for now "it is a celebration of spring" suffices.

Posted by: liledjen4901 | April 17, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

seems like it wouldn't be too hard, really ... i am assuming that you are open and descriptive with your kids (in age-appropriate ways, or course) that compare/contrast your non-religiosity with the religiosity of others ... by sharing that Easter started as a religious holiday that has since added a secular component it seems that you can get to the bits that you want to be involved in and set aside those that you do not ... we are 'recovering Catholics' raising our kids to be free thinking Catholics ... they both did their own 'free thinking' out of the santa/bunny/tooth fairy myths on their own by age 6 or 7 ... we still enjoy all the holidays (they are 12 and 15 now and the egg hunt has evolved into a flashlight hunt in the back yard in the dark of night)

Posted by: BillthePMP | April 17, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Bill, I think a "free thinking Catholic" is called an Episcopalian.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 17, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I am agnostic bordering on atheist and my husband is also agnostic. My extended family has been involved in the Unitarian Universalist church and recently, after having no formal religious experience (never went to any services as a child), I have started attending the Sunday services. One thing I like about this church is that it is very accepting of all beliefs. They state that they are "a religion that keeps an open mind to the religious questions people have struggled with in all times and places. We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves. We are a "non-creedal" religion: we do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed." Basically they will support you in your own exploration and in the children’s case give them a good groundwork learning about all religions. I particularly like their services because the sermons are more of something you might find at a university or community center than the scripture type sermons of the more strict religions. To me it is more of a mutual exploration of spirituality than being told something spiritual. I feel that if we decide to take our children somewhere to learn about religion (my oldest is only about to turn 2), a place that teaches them about all religions and doesn’t scare them into feeling that they must believe in one thing, is the place to be for our family.

Posted by: firemom35 | April 17, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I am Anabaptist. My husband is a lapsed Catholic and I think their mother is a non-practicing Catholic. The kids and I have started going to church now that I don't work two jobs (got laid off from my second job).

Now of course I don't know what is being said in the other household but the kids haven't asked us one question about the meaning of Easter nor have I said anything to them about the religious meanings. In truth, all SS talked about in the week coming up to Easter was the fact they were going to get candy.

Now he did ask if bunnies laid eggs. When I said they didn't, he wanted to know why the bunny was giving away eggs. I told him I didn't know and he left it at that.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 17, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I am Roman Catholic, my father is Russian Orthodox (his Easter is this weekend - no Easter is not over yet!!!), my husband is Methodist. Although our child is on the way, we've talked about how Easter will be meaningful for him. Besides going to the glorious church services, we also go and get our food (and candy) blessed on the Saturday before Easter. Every food item in the basket has a symbolism assoiciated with it (Ham, Kielbasa, Eggs, Cheese, Wine, Horseradish, etc.), and the children's baskets are the symbol of the joy they are to feel with the Resurrection. We never really celebrated a bunny growing up, since our baskets had been blessed on Saturday we already knew what we were getting (including chocolate crosses).

Posted by: annwhite1 | April 17, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

"I do want to give the kids an appreciation for what Easter really means without a full-scale endorsement of Christianity."

It means nothing if you are not a christian. I am a christian and it means everything. I would feel better if people like you simply skipped christmas and easter. I find it somewhat offensive to engage in the trappings of these holidays when they have no meaning to you.

Posted by: pwaa | April 17, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Part 2, as an example. If I went out and had a big elaborate meal with a bunch of friends because it is Eid el-Adha and then said well I don't believe in it but hey why not do it, it is for fun. I would be a hypocrite of the first order. Same with Easter, just skip it.

Posted by: pwaa | April 17, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

hey moxiemom ... LOL, yeah, i suppose that is a valid surrogate label for some ... to me, recovering/free thinking gets a lot closer to atheist/agnostic/Christ-ist / Buddhist than Episcopalian :-) ... my spiritual journey is long and i do not know the endpoint ... i take my wisdom where i find it without needing to convince anyone else that i even know what i am talking about much less convince them i am 'right'

Posted by: BillthePMP | April 17, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Bill - glad you took my comment in the spirt in which it was intended! I too am on a journey of the same sort. Hard to sort out the labels. Good luck on your trip, let me know if you figure it all out!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 17, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

PWAA - where do you draw the line? at what point can families participate in Easter & Christmas? Must you attend services weekly? daily? how many sins are you allowed each year/month/week/day? How many commandments can you break?

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | April 17, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

"PWAA - where do you draw the line? at what point can families participate in Easter & Christmas? Must you attend services weekly? daily? how many sins are you allowed each year/month/week/day? How many commandments can you break? "

Well snarky, the point in question was non believing people participating in religious holidays. It is actually simple, if you don't believe in the event, don't celebrate it, pretty easy for MOST people to understand I think.

Posted by: pwaa | April 17, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse


I think there should be a distinction between the getting candy and presents celebrating (which has NOTHING to do with the religious elements) and the going to church to talk and celebrate the religious event. I agree with avoiding the second if you don't believe, but it is virtually impossible to avoid the desire to participate in the first. Hence, the whole Hannukah being treated as Christmas debacle. In my family growing up, we celebrated Hannukah as it was intended and also had a tree and exchanged presents on the 25th - no religion involved. It was a family celebration and a participation in something that is universal in this country's culture.

Posted by: cqjudge | April 17, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

"Well snarky, the point in question was non believing people participating in religious holidays. It is actually simple, if you don't believe in the event, don't celebrate it, pretty easy for MOST people to understand I think."

Drawing the line where you want to draw it in effect means that you should not be celebrating Christmas yourself, since the reason that Christmas is celebrated in December is because this is when the Roman Saturnalia, a pagan holiday, occured.

On another note, I also am an agnostic that was raised in the Catholic faith. Bottom line is that I really don't know that I believe any one creed, but find religion in general to be fascinating, and understand that faith can be a very compelling force in people's lives. When I go to church, I prefer the high Episcopalian service because it combines the beautiful ritual of the Catholic faith with the more "free-thinking" ways of the Episcopalian faith. In a nutshell, I think that if there is a God, and I am not so sure there is, there must be more than one way to reach him or her or whatever it might be. And on the other hand, if there is no God, religion can still be a useful thing for humanity. I certainly know that even as an agnostic, I can still find comfort in a beautiful service or in understanding certain philosphical principles in many various religions.

Also, I think an understanding of religion provides children with wonderful cultural context in general.

Posted by: emily8 | April 17, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

As far as I am concerned, Christmas is a time to give and receive gifts and spend time with family. Santa really has nothing to do with religion (maybe it did years ago, but now not so much!) and wrapping your house in twinkle lights is just plain fun.

And for me, Easter is a time to celebrate Spring and the glorious colors around us. A giant bunny delivering eggs has nothing to do with religion either!

So we celebrate the holidays w/out any religious overtones and enjoy it immensely. When my kids start asking questions, I will enroll them in Sunday School and they can decide for themselves what to believe!

Posted by: LBH219 | April 17, 2009 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Drawing the line where you want to draw it in effect means that you should not be celebrating Christmas yourself, since the reason that Christmas is celebrated in December is because this is when the Roman Saturnalia, a pagan holiday, occured.

That is irrelevant but coming from an agnostic I am not surprised. We celebrate the birth of Christ in December, it could be in another month, it wouldn't matter. The WHOLE reason of celebrating is to celebrate Christ period. It is irrational to celebrate something in which you have no belief in, just skip it.

Posted by: pwaa | April 17, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

We're Pagans, so we've had a *LOT* of experience with our holidays (i.e. Sabbats) not being recognized by the society we live in, and of explaining other people's religious holidays to our kids.

When the boys were smaller, they got invited to the Grandparent's church for Easter Egg hunts. Until the strangers who were separating the kids from the parents got a little too aggressive about keeping the parents way from the kids they were aggressively proselytizing. (Save the Pagan babies! Um, no thanks.)

We pretty much ignore Easter - candy and chocolate almost never come into our home because of DH's diabetes - but do celebrate Eostara on the spring equinox around March 21.

We've talked about the various holidays / holy days of different religions - not in depth - just telling the stories and giving the kids the cultural background to understand what their friends at school are doing.

Yeah, there's a certain amount of research needed for getting those stories right, but many of the stories are simply really good *stories* if they're told well. And it's very gratifying when a member of the religion appreciates one's efforts to learn and tell their stories. I still treasure the memory of a Hindu coworker asking for an explanation of Passover, and after I jumped in, my Jewish coworker said I'd given the best explanation he'd ever heard from someone who wasn't Jewish. (I was also a little embarrassed, because I should probably have kept my mouth shut and let the Jewish gentleman explain his holiday himself.)

And my boys, especially the younger one around Yule (winter solstice, around Dec. 21) and Christmas, will happily tell you that the best thing about being Pagans is that, "We get to celebrate *all* the holidays!"

I was a little disappointed with PWAA's reaction. If a day is special / important / holy for someone of a different religion whom we care about, what is so wrong with honoring that person's feelings and beliefs by sharing their celebrations and practices to mark the day? My kids and I have attended Catholic masses with my parents. We've celebrated Passover Seder dinner with a (former) housemate, as well as lit Hanukkah candles with her. It's like celebrating M.L. King Day even though we have western European ancestors, or Cesar Chavez Day, even though I only ever spent one day of my teens working in a potato field (farm work is hard!). Sharing in them is showing respect and honoring other people's traditions and history - at least that's how we see it.

Posted by: SueMc | April 17, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: SueMc | April 17, 2009 2:00 PM

Your post is actually ok with me. You honored the event and recognized it. You didn't wake up and say hey let's throw a party and use the excuse of someone's holiday.

Posted by: pwaa | April 17, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the point of Christmas, originally, was to have a holiday that would bring the Pagan masses to Christianity. Originally, it was celebrated in much the same way as the original Saturnalia, but since there wasn't much about the holiday that was considered Christian, it was later revised to be a celebration of Jesus's birthday.

Posted by: emily8 | April 17, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

My wife and I are both hook, line, and sinker Catholics so any questions that confuse the Easter Bunny with our religion is easy to answer. Easter Sunday is the day we celebrate the ressurection of Jesus Christ, a belief most essential to our Christian faith.

The legend of the Easter Bunny as well as Coloring, hiding, and hunting for eggs is a fun activity for family & kids and has nothing to do with our faith. So, go ahead, eat a few jelly beans and bite the ears off the chocolate bunny, nobody will accuse you of being Christian for doing so.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 17, 2009 2:26 PM | Report abuse

How did the Easter bunny tradition get its start?

Posted by: emily8 | April 17, 2009 2:50 PM | Report abuse

This is a quick Easter Bunny History link:

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | April 17, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

The name "Easter" is derived from the Germanic/Norse Goddess Eostara, or Owestre, or ... there's probably other variants of her name. She's viewed as a beautiful young woman, a Goddess of springtime and fertility, and the hare or rabbit is one of her symbols because of the fertility associations. Eggs are also one of her symbols, again, because of the fertility associations.

The whole rabbit/egg-hunt thing is "borrowed" from pre-Christian, Germanic Pagan springtime celebrations (up in the cold northern regions of Europe, simply surviving the winter and making it to spring was a cause for celebrating) that, like Christmas-in-December, was adopted by the early Christians to convert Pagans.

Posted by: SueMc | April 17, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Yeah . . . we can never really figure out whether to do passover or easter and our youngest is violently allergic to eggs. So we have chocolate bunnies, talk a little about bitter herbs, and call it a day. Guess we ought to work all that out.

Posted by: ElaineatLipstickdaily | April 17, 2009 4:36 PM | Report abuse

You will get a kick out of this. When I was in college, we celebrated May Day and Danced around the May Pole, until someone decided that this was inherently sexist so then we danced around the May hole as well.
Love those Pagan rituals!!
That was a long time ago.

Posted by: emily8 | April 17, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I do sort of wish that as English speaking Christians we would abandon the "Easter" name to the spring lovers and call it some variant of "Pascha" like every other language in the world does, so that while the two celebrations may coincide, neither is watered down by the other and both can be celebrated either independently or together.

Posted by: 06902 | April 17, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Rabbits and easter eggs are pagan symbols, part of the celebration of the spring solstice -- renewal, rebirth and fertility. In order to gain converts, the Catholic church grafted Christian holidays onto existing pagan holidays. They did the same thing with Christmas. In fact, Christmas trees are a pagan tradition expressly forbidden in the Bible.

So, pwaa, Christian are the ones who said "hey let's throw a party and use the excuse of someone's holiday." If you find it "offensive to engage in the trappings of these holidays when they have no meaning to you" then stop celebrating Pagan holidays or at least drop the Pagan traditions (Christmas tree, gift exchange, rabbits and eggs) from you Christian celebrations.

Posted by: lalalu1 | April 17, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

to lalalu's point, I think it is very difficult to pin down any cultural or religions tradition and claim it is pure. Religious traditions are borrowed, adapted, transformed, and generally shared in many ways within our culture. Christianity and pagan traditions intermingle, as shown by the history of Christmas and Easter.

I do understand that certain rituals are strictly for believers, such as Communion in the Catholic Church, and I respect that. But I am not offended in the least bit by people who decide to partake in a particular tradition, especially one as widely celebrated as Christmas, for example, just because it happens to be fun.

Posted by: emily8 | April 17, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Maypoles are wonderful fun!

(Please don't tell the "High Episco-Pagans" that my favorite Sabbat is Beltaine / May Day - joke, okay)

And the symbolism, if done correctly includes both genders. The pole is phallic, of course that's pretty obvious, but either the pole is permanently in a hole in the ground, or part of the ritual has a male celebrant (we call him "Jack-in-the-Green) bring the be-ribboned pole to a female celebrant (our May Queen) and the two of them place the end of the pole into a temporary pre-dug hole in the ground, and support the raised pole while the rest of the group dances around it with the ribbons.

Either way the "hole in the ground" where the pole stands represents the female principle. And yes, it's another fertility ritual with the symbolic consumation of pole in a hole.

I just love it when non-Pagans celebrate and dance around a Maypole. The ribbons winding around and around are very pretty - even when inexperienced folks tangle them all up. And whether or not they recognize the symbolism of what they're doing, they are blessing their lands, their community, and themselves with fertility and life.

Blessed be!

Posted by: SueMc | April 17, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

SueMc, Merry Meet!

We're Wiccans, so for us the Christian mainstream holidays like Christmas and Easter are a bit of a balancing act too. We celebrate the secular aspects of those holidays, such as the egg hunts and the Easter Bunny, and we leave the stockings out for Santa at Christmas and it's a day to get together with family and friends and celebrate the goodwill towards each other that the season embodies.

Our religious holidays, the Sabbats, take precedence over the Christian ones, and they celebrate the seasons. We celebrate the spring equinox, called Ostara, as our religious holiday. The kids get baskets with flower seed packets in them, there's an egg hunt in the yard, and we have a feast at night where we ask the Goddess and the God to bless the growing season. It's also our younger daughter's birthday, so it's a double party now! The Winter Solstice, or Yule, is also celebrated more as our religious holiday. The tree is up and decorated on that day, and there's another feast. We keep the tree up for 12 days, but instead of Christmas, we start counting off from Yule instead so everything comes down on January 2 instead of 6th.

For the secular celebrations of the Christian holidays, we explain to the kids how they were adapted from pre-Christian traditions and religions. As they get older, we'll teach them about other religions of the world, what holidays they have, and how they celebrate them. It's fun, and educational at the same time!

Blessed Be!

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | April 20, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

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