Birth, Death and Easter Eggs: The Spring Equinox Belongs to us All

Peter Lynas of the Evangelical Alliance has argued that the trend of “Easter Eggs” being increasingly marketed as “Chocolate Eggs” is a sign of “Ardent Secularism”.

As ardent secularists this is news to us at Atheist Northern Ireland. We would suggest that market forces of a disinterested nature probably lie behind the decision. After all, those who make and market confectionery would probably like their wares to appeal to the public all year round and regardless of religious persuasion. Money, as opposed to disdain for Christianity, is probably the reason behind the trend. It is not the job of confectioners to market Christianity.

Happy Easter from Atheist NI! Photo by Nyks.

Behind Peter’s barmy paranoia about the efficacy of ardent secularists to make this sort of cultural change, lies an apparent concern that Christian holidays are being co-opted by the impious for their own ends. Throughout his recent appearance on Radio Ulster’s TalkBack, he made repeated reference to the fact that people were happy to benefit from attractive aspects of religious festivities (like time off work) but didn’t want the downsides (like restrictions on certain types of trade).

Speaking on the same programme, Atheist NI Chair Colin Morrison mentioned that there were pagan precedents to Easter, an argument host William Crawley seemed unwilling to explore on account of it being something few listeners would know about. Yet it is an important point, for without it the narrative that Easter is a uniquely Christian time is allowed some purchase. The umbrage Peter Lynas and his ilk voice about people exploiting the holiday without paying due obligation is denied its best counter-argument.

Simply put, almost every major western culture that has left some sort of historical record, and which exists north of the equator, has placed importance on the winter solstice as a time of death and scarcity, and on the spring equinox as a time of rebirth and a return of the light. The few exceptions only buck the trend as a precise result of designing their traditions in such a way as to distinguish them from other approaches (for example Islam, in which the religious year is shorter than the calendar year so that religious festivals aren’t associated with particular dates).

Hades carries off Persephone
To Hell and back? Persephone does it once a year. Statue by Simon Troger.

When it comes to other religions the list of holy figures who return to life in spring after death, or deathlike experiences, is lengthy. Two of the better known examples are Persephone (whose yearly return from her time with Hades coincides with the start of spring) and Osiris (whose transformation from dead mortal to immortal god was celebrated as crops were planted).

Given that the return of longer, warmer, sunnier days is as good an excuse as any for a knees-up, and given that communal celebration is generally prosocial whether or not it is religious, it ought to be the right of any of us to regard the spring equinox as an important time of the year and celebrate it if and how we so choose.

Peter, on the other hand, seeks to shame those who celebrate at this time for any reason other than that mandated by Christian tradition. Furthermore he supports legislation restricting trade during the holiday period, whether or not those who wish to work at this time identify as Christian.

It would be better to provide people with the freedom to either work or celebrate as they wish regardless of their faith, just as they can at other times of the year.

And, as an ardent secularist, it would be accurate to note that the spring equinox is an important time in traditions aside from that of Christianity, and to dismiss the habit of Christians like Peter in hogging it for themselves as the selfish act of religious supremacists.


References: Easter, a Christian or secular holiday? – BBC TalkBack, 23/3/15

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