EASTER’S LONG PAST
I love Easter, it is a time of hope and new beginnings. Although Christmas is thought of as the “season of joy” to me Easter is the time for rejoicing. The winter weather is usually a thing of the past and, although there will still be odd reminders of winter weather, they are usually short lived and the warmth of the sun is there to make us smile.
Growing up in Northern England meant winters were wet, windy and grey but come Easter time and a miracle occurred on the windswept hills. As Wordsworth put it so eloquently, “A host of golden daffodils” appeared, as if by magic.
There is honestly nothing as heart lifting or inspiring as coming across huge patches of daffodils, their golden heads really do dance in the wind, as though trying to get free of their roots and fly away. As a mere mortal, I feel my heart trying to free itself and dance away with them.
Easter, in my childhood, didn’t have an Easter bunny, I never heard of him until we came over to Canada. I never hunted for coloured eggs, but instead we were given large chocolate eggs, quite often several of them from various relatives.
In the area where I grew up, it was a long standing tradition to hike up a local hill on Good Friday. I’m not sure if this went on in other parts of England but people came from miles around to walk up Rivington Pike. I was lucky enough to live within walking distance to the base of the hill but hundreds of people arrived by bus, bicycle and cars.
The climb up the hill was quite a trek but people of all ages made the attempt. At the very top was a small tower or “pike”. These were built to be used as warning beacons during ancient wars. Fires were lit in these pikes, all located on the highest hill in the area, the fires could be seen from miles away and warned of the attack of invaders, by sea. I think our local pike was built rather later, as a decorative item, but the climb to the tower was a yearly ritual for thousands of people from nearby towns.
My mother’s family had gone there as children and, in those days, they actually carried hard boiled eggs and rolled them down the hill. I don’t know what this signified, by the time I came along, this practice was no longer observed, but the Good Friday trek up the hill continued.
As I grew older and more commercialism came into play, vendors drove up the lower levels of the hill, to a plateau, and set up sales of food and novelties, even small fairground rides, very popular with many people. My family chose the steeper route to the top, where vehicles couldn’t go, a much more satisfying climb. The view from the top was quite spectacular and, even in those days of smoky factories, you could see over thirty miles to the west coast. There we would enjoy our picnic lunch, before the tricky downhill climb.
Easter Saturday usually saw the arrival of one of my aunts, who had never married and spent all her vacations with my grandma. Aunt Alice, the oldest of her siblings had “gone into service” at the age of fourteen. This meant she became the live-in housekeeper for a fairly wealthy couple, who owned a large home. She had her own small apartment and seemed very happy with her life but was on duty six days a week and only visited her family on holidays.
She usually arrived at Easter with a huge chocolate egg for me, but this was never opened until after church on Sunday. This auntie was a mine of information on wild flowers and she inspired me to really appreciate all nature’s gifts. She taught me how to look in hedgerows to discover bird nests and discover the wonderfully soft fluff and grasses the birds had managed to find to line their nests. She saw God in all nature and instilled this discovery in my young heart and mind.
After our big Easter Sunday meal of ham, I would get to open my chocolate egg. The egg usually came in an elaborately decorated, cardboard box. It could usually be separated into two halves and the contents of small, filled chocolates could be discovered inside. Pure luxury!
My usual source of candy was the penny tray at the local store, which was a nasty, tooth rotting collection of sugared treats enjoyed by all children, but, usually recognised as rubbish. So the smooth, luxurious taste of quality chocolate, filled with flavourful creams, nougat or caramel was truly a treat. Because of my rather strict upbringing, I offered the treats to grandma, my aunt and my mom, but they were usually very kind and let me have the bounty all to myself. They usually had treats of their own to enjoy, but letting me have my entire collection of goodies was unusual and I made the most of it.
The tradition of the climb to the top of Rivington Pike is still an Easter tradition in my hometown but, as far as I know, the Easter bunny is not a visitor. That hill still means a lot to me and can be seen for miles around the area, visits to England are never complete without at least one sighting of the “Pike”.
To this day, the sight of daffodils gives me a lift and, even though I want no fancy funeral service and no burial, I would like my ashes to be spread where daffodils grow so my soul can dance with them throughout eternity.