Although Christmas is but three months past, it's time to haul out the "Jesus is the reason for the season" signs again. Between Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day (lesser religious retail holidays), the avalanche of Easter tackiness arrives to crowd store shelves and nestle next to the checkout counter.
It's a cruel thought, since jobs always are involved, but there was some hope the recession would cut into the kitsch economy. But no, there are cards featuring maniacally grinning bunnies holding colored eggs in their ... arms? Paws?
The Easter bunny myth hasn't solidified as well as Santa Claus' Christmas Eve trip, but banners, posters and decorations feature the frantic rabbit who in some vague way arrives to fill baskets with goodies. Near the cards, stuffed animals seem to hop and bleat and twitter and tweet all around.
Speaking of stuffed, it hardly would be a feast day without unhealthy food. So after the prospect of a chocolate coma in February and a beer blast in March, we face the Easter sugar assault.
Marshmallow chicks appear clad in colors far from nature. Anything, of course, can be molded into chocolate, including eggs, rabbits, praying hands and ... crosses.
One may wonder if one should mark Good Friday by taking a bite out of the chocolate cross, or perhaps wait -- out of respect -- for Easter. If one has given up chocolate for Lent, although that seems to have fallen a little out of fashion in favor of giving up some electronic addiction such as Facebook or texting, then all the more reason to wait. A quick Internet search actually turned up a tasteless (in so many ways) mold for making a chocolate crucifix. What instantly comes to mind is H.L. Mencken's quote about never underestimating public taste.
Like Christmas, Easter -- when stripped of its religious meaning -- has become an all-purpose seasonal festival. Perhaps those not interested in faith could call Christmas Winterfest and Easter Springfest. Then Santa Claus and presents could replace Jesus and the Eucharist, and bunnies and chocolate could replace the cross and Resurrection.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld's TV show suggested an all-purpose substitute for Christmas or Hanukkah called Festivus, which would feature the "airing of grievances and feats of strength." Better yet, combine faith traditions. The clunky word "Chrismukkah" already exists to describe a melding of Christmas and Hanukkah. So, since Passover often arrives at about the same time as Easter, perhaps we need Eastover? Passter? Easier to pronounce than Chrismukkah, surely.
Beyond the stores, and refusing to give in to a vernal version of "bah, humbug," we rejoice in a riot of color and joy. Who does not wish to greet the season of rebirth with fresh, pastel colors and a pot or two of ridiculously gorgeous lilies?
Happy memories for both parent and child arise from Easter egg-coloring sessions. People still dress up for the day at church services, where more smiles seem the norm.
How much deeper and more satisfying the celebratory aspect of Easter becomes, though, when the journey includes Lent and Good Friday, the observances that don't lend themselves quite so easily to the greeting-card culture.
One view holds that Lent and Good Friday, with their emphasis on denial and discipline and meditation on Jesus' suffering, are religious "downers." Yet no one would argue that suffering exists in this world -- especially in this time of economic pain. How easy it is to feel helpless in the face of such enormous needs.
The Easter journey of faith, from darkness and death to salvation and Resurrection, gives balm to the soul. It reminds us of the promise of new life and hope, despite our current hardships. Easter says that sin is not eternal; that even death has no power. At a very human level, it tells us that change is possible in our own lives and spirits when we may be walking down a destructive path. Christians are a Resurrection people.