If you were raised Christian, you probably spent Easter Sunday eating chocolate rabbits and hunting for pastel-painted eggs. Perhaps as you grew older, the significance of Easter faded away into the mists of Christian legends about Christ’s resurrection (along with loosely-associated pagan themes of fertility and rebirth). Recently, British Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized the centrality of these stories to Easter, but journalist Holly Baxter has questioned his attempts, forcing us to ask ourselves what makes this holiday important in a secular world.
Celebrating the Holidays, “Atheist Style”
Holidays like Easter are quickly becoming secularized, as Baxter explains with her own personal story. Like most Christian children, she grew up singing hymns and decorating eggs for Easter, but eventually lost her faith and came to identify as atheist. Still, Easter has remained an important date in her calendar. “I came across the criticism that when I celebrated Christian holidays in the UK I was nothing more than a hypocrite”, she writes. Eventually she came to realize why she and her family still celebrate Easter and other holidays, and why she finds no hypocrisy in the practice.
A Respite from the Rat Race
So, why would an atheist celebrate a religious holiday? For Baxter, the reason is a very down-to-earth one: acknowledging the significance of these dates is a form of social responsibility and community involvement. Reduced work hours and days off “force us to step off the treadmill”, she points out, and while there are financial reasons for working long hours, “we hold steadfastly to the Christmas break and the Easter weekend because we collectively value that time as a positive gift from our ancestors”. In other words, you don’t have to be religious to cherish time with friends and family.
Christian Legends and Modern Needs
The journalist’s comments come in response to Cameron’s remarks on the importance of the Christian faith. Although understanding biblical stories is enriching, the more pressing problem, she argues, is alleviating the undue stress experienced by children and their parents spending long, exhausting hours at work and school. “The fact [Cameron] has ignored these simple truths while spouting Christian fables”, she argues, “is what makes him, and not me, the real hypocrite this Easter”. Though strongly worded, the same might be said of other nations where leaders treat holidays as a cause to celebrate religious tradition rather than address work and labor issues.
Whether or not we believe in religious stories like the resurrection of Jesus Christ, most of us can agree that holidays are crucial dates in the calendar for spending time with friends and family. Just as much as they offer a time of religious reflection and observance, they provide overworked modern families with a much-needed outlet from the stress of everyday life.