Solomon: Appreciating Easter
Easter is more than just shopping sprees and candy binges.
Americans spend an average of around $17 billion on Easter every year. With the copious amounts of food, clothing and gifts purchased for the occasion, the holiday provides retailers across the country with a vigorous revenue boost. Originally a religious and cultural tradition centered on modesty, humility and hope, this holiday is almost nationally celebrated and universally capitalized.
Whereas only slightly more than half of Americans claim to go to church on Easter, 87 percent of parents claim to have Easter baskets for their children. Chocolate sales have increased by 24 percent from 2009 to 2014, with about a third of Americans purchasing it during the holidays. Similar trends can be seen in pretty much every other industry with a stake in holiday shopping. Like Christmas and Thanksgiving, Easter seems to have lost much of its spiritual value and become a secular and superficial platform Americans use to justify materialism.
Granted, relaxing the connotations of holidays like Easter gives more non-religious Americans an opportunity to take vacations or spend quality time with family. I doubt that most of us would invest the time and resources necessary to plan a big family dinner or event if we did not have a good pretense for it. Perhaps days like Easter, as superficial as they have become, give us an excuse to spend more time with those we love, to be kinder to one another and to take much-needed breaks.
Yet the actual significance of the holiday has become irrelevant as its secular — and many times materialistic — aspects are increasingly emphasized. Most things we now consider traditions, such as the food we eat, the costumes we wear and the gifts we offer, are artificial symbols devoid of spiritual meaning for most.
While there is a personal benefit from the increasingly more universal nature of holidays like Easter, the social and cultural shifts to which we attribute that change have created some adverse ripple effects. By redefining holidays such as Easter as celebratory events in which everyone can participate, we have given free rein to their commercialization.
Such commercialization is evident in the American public school system’s prioritization of Christian holidays. Certainly, some important Muslim or Jewish days of observance are listed as no-class days or optional class days on school calendars, but during these less universally celebrated holidays, teachers generally expect students to keep up with their peers’ workload. On the other hand, the breaks around Christmas and Easter tend to be longer and more widely accepted. Christian holidays carry larger weight in part because of American demographics, with Christians making up roughly 70 percent of the country during 2014, combined with a sense of nationalism — as much as we claim to be a secular democracy, Christian religious symbols are undeniably entrenched in national politics. Yet it would be naïve to believe that business interests don’t play a part as well — the commercialization of these holidays means that American businesses have much to gain and therefore have a strong incentive to want these days to stay disproportionally recognized.
As young adults, students play a significant role in this commercialization. Millennials spend more money on Easter than any other age group does, so our candy splurges and shopping hauls have a disproportionately large impact on the commercialization of holidays. By looking for any excuse to justify our excessive spending, we have allowed this superficiality to undermine our appreciation of various holidays. On and off campus, we should stay aware of this superficiality and gain something a little more substantial from holidays like Easter.
Egg hunts, free candy and festivities are all good fun, and I am in no way arguing against them. That being said, we should also try to provide an open platform for students who want to engage in the spiritual aspects of these holidays. The gap between those of us who celebrate artificially and a smaller minority who celebrate religiously may seem wide. However, I believe that there is a substantial group of us who fall somewhere in the middle, who do not consistently go to church but who also wish to celebrate the spiritual aspect of religious holidays. Organizing more open forums for discussion or events centered on appreciating one another or just performing simple acts of kindness is a way to use holidays to better ourselves without limiting ourselves to materialistic enjoyments. If we are going to keep embracing the universal nature of holidays, we should strive to preserve some of these holidays’ meaningful aspects.