Christianity commemorates its belief of the resurrection – that is, the ‘rising from the dead’ – of Jesus Christ, three days after he had been crucified on Good Friday. The changing date of the festival annually, reminds us of the antiquity of the religion and harks back to a time when events were commemorated according to phases of the moon. Easter was established as falling on the first Sunday after the full moon following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox. While Easter’s central message remains constant, COVID-19 protocols might temper some of its observances reviewed below.
In the Caribbean, the pre-Lenten Carnival is a raucous prelude to the solemnity of Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But in its spread across the world, the festival has acquired unique expressions in almost every country Christianity is practised. In Rome where the Christian religion took early root under the guidance of Peter, who was a direct disciple of Jesus, Holy Week events in the Eternal City include a ceremony in which the Pope washes the feet of a dozen men at a service commemorating Christ’s gesture of humility to his apostles. This gesture is replicated by the local Catholic Bishop in Guyana.
One of the strangest ‘innovations’ in commemorating Easter’s commemoration of the sacrifice of Jesus is found in the Philippines. Filipinos take part in bloody rituals in which half-naked penitents whip their backs with blades and bamboo sticks. Many Filipino Catholics perform religious penance during the week leading up to Easter as a form of worship and supplication. These rites are believed to cleanse the sins of the devotees, cure illnesses, and even grant wishes. Devotees walk barefoot in sweltering heat, stopping every few hundred yards at makeshift altars while local residents recite texts narrating Jesus Christ’s suffering. The Catholic Church in the Philippines has tried to distance itself from the tradition, calling it “un-Christian”, but to no avail.
Oftentimes, the customs do not seem to have any connection to the underlying message of the festival, but they have become so traditional that to the natives, Easter would not be Easter without them. These are the ‘secular’ aspects of Easter. Decorated Easter eggs are quite common in the western European countries and those countries such as the US where their descendants form the dominant group. They also have ‘egg rolling’ games. Interestingly, while we were a British colony, we do not seem to have picked up the Easter egg tradition – as did Barbados and Jamaica. Eggs here are only used for eating! In Colombia, the turtle-egg omelettes, iguana soup, and fried capybara are the traditional Easter dishes.
The hot cross bun, which has a venerable history – even predating European Christianity, is a fixture and a favourite of peoples from all religions during the Easter season. In the British Caribbean, stretching from Guyana to Bermuda, we have also picked up kite flying in the weeks before Easter Sunday – building to a peak on Easter Monday, which is always a public holiday. For Guyanese, outside the Christian faith, Easter is firmly identified with kite flying. Some say that the tradition was started to demonstrate the ascension of Christ to heaven, but there is no conclusive evidence to verify this.
One interesting belief that has crept into our local practices in Guyana is that one should not work on Good Friday. Disobeying this stricture, it is predicted, would result in an accident or some other mishap. The Bartica Regatta is fast developing into a local Easter event that is identifiably “Guyanese”. After our imitation of the pre-Lent Trinidad Carnival, maybe we might consider adopting the T&T Easter tradition of “Beating the Bobolee”.
The Bobolee is an effigy of Judas Iscariot made out of old rags and then left out to be beaten by passers-by as symbolic punishment for Judas’ betrayal of Christ. Interestingly, of recent, the Bobolees have been made to resemble local politicians. The beatings are now done more enthusiastically.
Happy Easter, Guyana.