BURT WOLF: Most of our holidays and celebrations were developed to mark the cycles of nature and they have taken place in traditional forms for centuries.
They bind the past to the present and predict the future. They are a basic part of every society that has ever existed.
But when these ceremonies arrived in America, they started to change. No longer controlled by convention these ancient celebrations began to evolve. They had gotten their first Taste of Freedom and they would never be the same.
BURT WOLF: Easter is thought of primarily as a religious occasion but originally it was a festival that celebrated events that were taking place in nature. It marked the arrival of the light and warmth of spring after the cold darkness of winter.
BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Easter, like most festivals is a rite of passage. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. And all spring festivals have a similar message—death is merely a passage into new life. And because food is so important to life, all spring festivals that deal with rebirth or the return of the growing season use food as a powerful symbol.
BURT WOLF: The Easter festival runs for four days. Thursday marks the evening of the Last Supper. Good Friday is the day of the Crucifixion. Holy Saturday was the day Christ lay in his tomb and Easter Sunday recalls his resurrection. On Thursday, there is a Mass, a procession to remove the bread and wine of the Eucharist to a separate place, stripping of the altar and private prayer either until midnight or through the night into the dawn.
In many Christian churches there is a pre-Mass Seder feast, often held with Jewish groups in remembrance of the fact that Christ’s Last Supper was actually a Seder.
Traditionally, the Easter Vigil which can begin at any time after sundown on Saturday was considered the high point of the four days of Easter, but in the United States many churches now consider Easter Sunday as the most significant element in the celebration.
In many churches, the primary visual element of the Easter Vigil is the Paschal candle. It’s a symbol of Christ himself, rising from the dead and shining the True Light. Customarily, the candle is made of beeswax, which is a symbol of purity. And over the centuries, the bee itself has become a symbol of the Resurrection. The light given off by the Paschal candle is a reference to Jesus calling himself “the light of the world” and saying, “he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Light symbolizes the resurrection of Christ and the hope that God brought to the world through that resurrection. It also celebrates the idea that new beginnings can come from old endings.
BURT WOLF: The church is suddenly ablaze with light, and the bells begin to ring. In some places the bells ring from every church in the city. The altar is draped with white, which is the color of Easter. Flowers have been brought in and the priest appears in his finest white vestments. The Mass will include the baptism of adult converts, who have been receiving instructions during Lent. Christian baptism involves the idea of drowning in the waters, and rising out of them again into a new life: each baptism is a mini Easter.
REV. CHARLES NOTABARTOLO ON CAMERA: In the Scriptures, Jesus said that fasting adds power to our prayer. And the fasting that we're talking about, it could be a variety of things. It could be people refraining from food all day or missing just one meal as a way of worshipping God. It could be candy, alcohol, their favorite food. They could be fasting from watching TV or something like that. The reason for it is to bring discipline to our lives. We really do need to discipline ourselves and, at least in Lent, at least that one time of year where we really try to get back to disciplining ourselves to remove sin from our life and to get closer to God.
We all come here as sinners and we are all in need of renewal and this is our opportunity for renewal.
REV. CHARLES NOTABARTOLO: Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel. Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.
BURT WOLF: Lent runs for forty days, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. The forty days is a reference to the forty days that Christ, Elijah, and Moses fasted in the desert. The foods of Lent should be lean and practicing Christians often give up meat, sweets, alcohol, butter, milk, coffee or tea. One of my friends gives up lunch and donates her lunch money to charity.
THE FOODS OF EASTER
BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: One of the ways to understand the message of this celebration is to take a look at the simple acts of eating and drinking. We must eat and drink in order to stay alive. The food exists outside us. We must find it and bring it inside. It’s a very simple way of learning that there are things outside ourselves that we must discover and bring inside in order to survive. And that is one of the central messages of the Eucharist, the communion. God becomes food. We eat the food and become one with God. Because bread and wine are used in the communion, they are the most important foods at the meal. But there are other foods on the Easter table that also have the sense of the holiday.
BURT WOLF: One of the best places to take a look at the foods of Easter is Italy. This is the kitchen of the Villa di Capezzana, a wine and olive estate just outside of Florence. It’s the home of Count Ugo Contini Bonacossi and his family. Countess Lisa and her chef are preparing their traditional Easter dinner.
The Easter lamb is a very important element in the meal. It recalls the Passover lamb, which was originally the animal sacrificed in the Temple of Jerusalem. The lamb is also a reference to Christ, who was the “Lamb of God” and Himself became the sacrifice, in order to take away the sins of the world. Lamb will often come to the Easter table in the form of a roast. It is the main course of the meal and it can be very elaborate -- or very simple -- in its presentation.
In the Bonacossi kitchen, a leg of lamb, which has been cut into chunks, is dredged in flour. It goes into a roasting pan with a little oil, slices of leek and garlic, and sprigs of fresh rosemary. A little seasoning. The lamb gets browned on all sides. And a cup of white wine is added. Then into a 450-degree oven for an hour. Along with the lamb comes a dish that is made by sautéing some pancetta, which is a form of Italian bacon, with fresh garlic and peas. After about five minutes of cooking, a cup of chicken broth is added. The cover goes on for ten more minutes of cooking. The peas are a local sign that spring has arrived.
The main course of the meal is served to Count Ugo and his family from a single dish, as opposed to having individual plates brought to each place. It symbolizes the unity of the family, from which each individual person is derived and—especially during Easter—the unity of each person with God.
The dessert at Villa Capezzana is La Colomba, a sweetened bread presented in the shape of a dove. For tens of thousands of years the dove has been a symbol of the return of spring and for almost two thousand years, a sign of the Holy Spirit of Christianity. In Italy, La Colomba has became an almost essential part of the foods of Easter.
Pan de Ramerino is also part of the Easter table. It’s Italy’s Hot Cross Bun. Originally a Florentine specialty, it was made on Holy Thursday and eaten on Good Friday. It’s baked with raisins and rosemary, and has a shiny top, which is sometimes marked with a cross. Rosemary is a sign of spring and sacred to the Virgin Mary. Rosemary is also a symbol of remembrance. The bun says, “Remember the meaning of Easter”.
A favorite Easter cake in Mediterranean countries is in the shape of a lamb with intricate curly “wool”, and bearing a flag. The cake represents Christ with the flag of victory over death—the Old Testament’s Suffering Servant, the Messiah who went “as a sheep to the slaughter and dumb as a lamb before his sheerer”.
One of the gastronomic responsibilities of a festival is to produce a series of foods that are associated with that specific celebration and underline the symbols of that particular festival. Ideally, they should be unlike anything you are going to eat or even see during the rest of the year. At Easter time there are a series of breads enclosing whole colored eggs. The breads may be shaped into a basket with eggs inside, or a heart with eggs underneath, or a cross.
Festival foods help us remember the festivals of previous years and make us feel that we belong, body as well as soul, to our culture.
THE RABBIT IN THE MOON
ANTHONY AVENI ON CAMERA: What's interesting about that Easter bunny is he's ubiquitous. He is Hindu. He is Maya. He is Korean and he is also very American, that bunny. Where does that bunny come from? Well, the there's an interesting Hindu tale about the rabbit and how he got to be in the moon. It is said that the rabbit was traveling together with a duck, a monkey and a fox. And they were all hermits, going along the highway, when a god, a Hindu god materialized from heaven, to test their faith. And he asked them, pretending to be a beggar; won't you make a sacrifice to me? The fox immediately went off and brought back a pail of milk. The monkey went up the tree and grabbed some mangoes. The duck, being an inhabitant of a lake, brought the gift of a fish. And when the rabbit was confronted by the deity, he said, “All I eat is grass. I don't know what I can give you, but my flesh.” He offers his flesh. The Hindu deity says, "Well, I'm going to put this fire with a cauldron on it. And you can jump off your rock into that fire and I'll eat your flesh." And sure enough, the rabbit went to the top of the rock and jumped. And at that moment, the Hindu deity had such admiration and compassion for him that he cradled, caught the rabbit, cradled him in his arms and threw him up to the moon, where his countenance still exists, as a sign that we should all maybe behave more like the rabbit, and give something that comes from the heart. And if you look at the moon, you will see that rabbit.
BURT WOLF: Rabbits reproduce at extraordinary rates and accordingly have often been one of the fertility symbols of spring. They express the ability of life to keep returning, like the moon. At Easter we see chocolate rabbits carrying eggs. The egg is a symbol of birth and because it contains a bright yellow yolk, it is also a sign of the sun. Like most holidays, Easter tries to combine opposites—life and death, darkness and light, moon and sun.
BURT WOLF: Christians saw life breaking out of an egg as the perfect symbol for Christ breaking out of his tomb and eggs became a central element in the celebration of Easter. The decorating of Easter Eggs is part of the culture of Northern and Eastern Europe and dates back for thousands of years.
LUBOW WOLYNETZ ON CAMERA: Egg decorating traditions in Ukraine began a long, long time ago in the pre-Christian days, in the Pagan days. When Ukrainian society, being an agrarian society, was always mindful of the cyclical movements of the sun and the different seasons. For them, the power of the sun was very important and they wanted to harness this power somehow. But the sun was far away and they tried to look around it to see if somehow, they might find an element that would be like the sun and would have some of the life giving power like the sun. And they found it in the form of a chicken egg. If you break the egg open, the shape and color of the egg yolk is like the sun. And sometimes life springs up from the egg when a hen sits on it, you have a little chick, or sometimes you might have a rooster. And for ancient society, not only in Ukraine, but all over the world, they believed that the rooster was the sunbird. And that the sun came out because the rooster was crowing in the morning. The most important pattern or symbol that is applied upon the decorated egg is the sun motif. It can be in the shape of a star, in the shape of a square cross, in the shape of a four-pedaled flower. It is a hidden symbolic secret language.
THE CZAR AND THE GOLDEN EGG
BURT WOLF: The ultimate Easter eggs are probably those that were created by Peter Carl Faberge, a master jeweler who lived in Russia during the second half of the 1800s. In 1965, Malcolm Forbes, who at the time was the owner and editor of Forbes Magazine, purchased one of the eggs and soon after became a serious collector of the works of Faberge. His collection is on display to the public in the Forbes Building in New York City. Malcolm’s son Kip took me on a tour.
KIP FORBES ON CAMERA: Eggs as you know are part of the traditional symbolism of Easter and my father was a great believer if you're going to have eggs, you might as well have the ultimate eggs. So, so he decided to go to Mr. Peter Karl Faberge, who every Easter made incredible eggs for the last two Czars of Russia. And this is a particular favorite. As you know, Russia has particularly severe winters and so this wonderful one with the lilies of the valley motif was given by Nicholas II to his wife, Alexandra, celebrating the birth of their second daughter. If you turn that tiny little knob on the side there, those miniatures are paintings of the Czar and his two daughters, actually rise out of the egg and open up. They blossom almost like a flower. You turn it again, and they sink back into the egg so you just have a little crown sitting on the top. This egg, and the egg in the next case, were two that my father negotiated almost over twenty years to purchase. In fact, the negotiations with the Russians over missile treaties looked easy compared to negotiating for these two eggs. The ultimate prize was this egg here, the so-called coronation Egg which was a gift from Nicholas to Alexandra on the Easter after their coronation. You open the egg, which is decorated with the traditional motifs of the Romanoff Eagle and the same gold sort of almost fabric that the coronation robes are made of. You open it up and inside is a perfectly detailed replica of the coronation coach, the coach that Alexandra rode to the cathedral for her coronation in. In fact the detail is so good on this that when the actual coach was restored with the help from Ford Motor Company by the Hermitage Museum, they used this as points of reference because some of the detailing is on this was missing on the actual coach. So the little doorknob actually works. You open the door, the little step folds out. I mean everything was absolutely perfect. This fits inside the egg and it was a perfect surprise for the Czarina, her first Easter as Czarina. The egg, which is perhaps the epitome of Faberge's and also the link with the Romanoff’s, is the so-called Fifteenth Anniversary Egg, which was given by Nicholas to Alexandra on their fifteenth anniversary. This is my late father's favorite piece and it's a favorite of mine. It has incredible miniatures of the Czar, Czarina and all of the children as well as tiny little paintings of all the major events of the reign. So you see this incredibly attractive family and knowing what we know in hindsight, what's their brutal fate, it's probably the most poignant of all the eggs. And again, the craftsmanship is stunning.
BURT WOLF: Today Americans celebrate the Easter season with Easter egg hunts and egg rolls. The hunt theory is based on the idea that the Easter bunny hid a bunch of eggs while the kids were asleep. On Easter morning, the children search out the eggs and win prizes in accordance with their hunting skills. Sometimes the event is held for the public. In New York, the city government organizes an Eggstravaganza in Central Park. Perhaps the most famous egg roll not including the ones in my local Chinese restaurant takes place on the White House lawn.
The original site of the Easter Monday egg roll was on the grounds of the United States Capitol and by the mid-1870s it was a major event. However, congress was already over budget for landscaping and cancelled it. In 1878, President Hayes was questioned by a group of children as to why Congress had put an end to the egg roll; the president invited the future voters to roll their eggs on his lawn. Yet again, an example of a president trying to thwart the intentions of Congress. And to this day, the White House egg roll continues.
THE WINES OF EASTER
BURT WOLF: Of all the celebrations in the Christian calendar, none is more clearly associated with wine than Easter. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that the wine they were drinking was his blood, and the bread they were eating his body. And in so doing, he made wine an essential element in the future rituals of the church.
Early Romans developed vineyards throughout Western Europe, so it was not difficult for early Christians to find wine for their services. But with the fall of Rome in the 400s, the cultivation of many of the vineyards became the responsibility of the Church. The monasteries of the Dark Ages acquired large properties, kept winemaking skills alive and in many areas developed new technology for the craft.
During the Middle Ages, the church played an important role in the feudal system and used its extensive land holdings to consolidate its power. Like other feudal landlords, the Church collected rent from people who lived on its land, and often the rent was paid in the form of wine. Unlike most agricultural products, wine lasts a long time and, in some cases, even improves with age which made wine a favorite form of rent.
The monks loved to stockpile this drinkable form of currency and taught the people who lived on monastery lands how to grow grapes and make wine. The monks would take a portion for themselves from each vintage.
BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: They also had one of the all-time great real estate acquisition programs. If you were an aristocrat and somewhat concerned about your morals and how you would be, or not be received in heaven, you could take a really nice hunk of one of your vineyards and donate it to the monks in exchange for which they would put in a good word for you upstairs.
THE AMERICANIZATION OF EASTER
BURT WOLF: Easter was not a holiday of particular importance in America until the large-scale immigration of Episcopalians and Roman Catholics that began during the middle of the 1800s. During the twentieth century, giving flowers, buying new clothing, especially women’s hats, and displaying your new attire by parading along your city’s major thoroughfare became important activities. We also invented the Easter Card. I never underestimate our ability to translate our emotional needs into “stuff”.
ANTHONY AVENI ON CAMERA: Our holidays are fixed and our holidays float. And the two floaters in our American calendar are Thanksgiving, and the worst one of all, Easter, which floats all around the place. And though we've tried to pin it down, and there have been attempts to make it, fix it at the third Sunday in April, it still remains a floating holiday. Now this raises havoc with the consumer, with the shopkeeper, with the marketer, because after all, we want to have our Easter finery laid out. And sometimes in the cold northern climes, March the 22nd is pretty early. On the other hand, April the 25th can be pretty late, if we want to start selling Easter bonnets, because it begins to get too warm as you start to move into May. Why haven't we changed and fixed Easter? We've managed to fix George and Abe's birthday as a single date in February. Why can't we do it with Easter? Well, intriguingly enough, in a poll that was taken by Business World magazine in 1972, fifty-two percent of Americans favored pinning Easter down to a specific Sunday, the third Sunday in April, fifty-two percent. This never went to Congress. It was never it never came; it's rather like metric. I think we had a lot of wonderful ideas in the 70s that we were gonna, put into play, but never got into play. And so Easter has remained that bugaboo of all holidays, which floats around. And every year, we have to say, let's see now when's Easter? One commentator said that, we may be able to fix Lincoln and Washington's Birthday, but we're never going to fix the Resurrection of Christ.
BURT WOLF: Of all the holidays and celebrations in the Christian calendar, none is more directly involved with the taste of freedom than Easter. The theme of Easter is liberation —liberation from time, liberation from sin and liberation from death. Easter celebrates the arrival of spring, which deals with liberation in the past and the present, but it also promises liberation in the future.
BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The message that comes with the arrival of spring is very precise: life, in one form or another, will always have the capacity to renew itself. For Taste of Freedom, I’m Burt Wolf.