There’s something about Easter that makes me delirious with excitement. Maybe it’s because Easter means the start of springtime and impending summer, and who doesn’t love that? Perhaps it’s the great food prepared by my adventurous, gourmet family that I’ll be eating all weekend long. More likely, it’s the fabulously eccentric, outspoken, intelligent, loving people that make up my extended family.
These include a fair trade activist, midwife, yogi, dietician, two chemists, the owner of a pharmaceutical company, an occupational therapist, quilter, two writers, a couple of nurses-in-training, a poli-sci major, nuclear engineer, bodybuilder, two teachers, social worker, timber-framer, painter, a human rights activist, environmentalist, tree planter, two teenage boys, a rambunctious toddler, and a baby. There are also multiple cellists, violinists, pianists, singers, and a drummer.
Within the course of an hour, it’s normal to have passionate discussions about topics such as olive oil production, Mennonite pacifist theology, the benefits of walking, the theory of relativity, uranium fuel bundles, samba vs bossa nova, fine china, neonatal resuscitation methods, homemade windmill construction, and timber joinery – just to name a few. So you can imagine putting all of this together in a house for a long weekend and you get one heck of a family get-together.
Fortunately my aunt and uncle’s farm near Lake Erie in the Niagara region has plenty of space for us to spread out. It’s not a working farm; the only animals around are semi-wild farm cats who congregate on the back porch each morning, hoping for scraps. The endless acres of field and forest, and Lake Erie within a fifteen-minute walk from the farmhouse, makes it a wonderful place. I’ve spend many weeks of my childhood exploring the collapsing out-buildings, climbing the willow tree, fishing antique treasures out of the pond, searching for the lost treasure that was supposedly buried there during the War of 1812. It’s a magical spot, and I love taking my own kids to visit now.
Festivities begin when we all arrive on Good Friday for dinner – likely a more jovial crowd than we’re supposed to be, considering the true meaning of the holiday. Saturday is spent making pysanky, which are Ukrainian Easter eggs. Though it is not our family heritage, my artist mother learned the technique and taught it to us years ago; since then it has become an inseparable part of our Easter ritual. We also eat large quantities of paska, a Mennonite tradition, which is a rich egg bread with icing, spread with a special soft cheese with raisins.
Sunday morning heralds the mad rush to get to church on time. There’s a frantic Easter egg hunt outside for the truly young and the young-at-heart, which usually results in me getting thoroughly frustrated that I can’t find my fair-trade chocolate bunny anywhere. (Still – even now, at age twenty-four with two kids – I know, it’s ridiculous.) There is a potluck breakfast at church, followed by a wonderfully musical church service. I’ll be taking my violin to join the impromptu orchestra, led by my aunt.
Heading back home, we’ll work up a storm in the kitchen to prepare a spectacular feast, usually featuring lamb. Two years ago, we had a Middle Eastern meal with grilled lamb kebabs, countless salads, plates of fresh olives, roasted eggplant dip, and labaneh (yogurt cheese). My uncle baked homemade pita in the oven and tossed it onto the table for immediate consumption, steaming hot and puffy. It wasn’t a typical Easter meal, but unforgettably good. (Fingers crossed for the same thing this year.)
We usually sit around in the living room for the evening, playing music if inspired, reading from the stacks of fascinating titles lying on every available surface, exchanging massages, telling stories, laughing till our already-stuffed bellies ache. We then part ways on Monday morning, knowing that we’ll be together within a matter of weeks for my cousin’s upcoming wedding.
Holidays like Easter make me more grateful than ever to belong to a big, colourful family. Despite our differences, and the habits that drive each other nuts, it’s incredibly special to be with these people and know that they’re not going anywhere – because they’re my family and always will be.