No matter where we have lived in the world – and the places have been many and various – Easter Sunday has always meant an egg hunt. The first Easter that we had children, our oldest son was nine months old. I ‘hid’ a chocolate egg on his high chair tray. He still took about five minutes to notice it. As I write this, he is nearly twenty-four and living twelve thousand miles away. I had to send him his egg this year but still secretly wished I could be there to hide it for him.
Watching our eight-year-old run around the garden this afternoon in the brilliant sunshine, skirmishing with his teenage sister whenever her count exceeded his, I thought again about the nature of tradition and its place within a family. As someone who tends to be driven very strongly by emotions – an INFP for those who like Myers-Briggs – I have many times been guilty of trying to control traditions so that they replicate my childhood experiences exactly. Only in this way, runs my subconscious reasoning, can my own children experience exactly the same pleasures that I did at their age.
And this, I have grown to realise, is nonsense. Any pleasurable experience is, by its very nature, fleeting. As soon as we make an attempt to pin it down for posterity and impose too much tradition and restriction on it, we lessen it. As we moved from country to country, it used to bother me if we couldn’t find Cadbury’s eggs. I had them as a child and I thought my children should have them too. In Florida it took a sixty mile trip to a Butcher’s shop in Miami to get hold of Cadbury’s chocolate. Best not to delve too deeply into that one. On that occasion maybe I was justified. Hershey’s chocolate has always reminded me of the dog treats we gave to our friends’ puppy at Christmas. But I doubt my toddler sons would really have noticed the difference, or cared.
In New Zealand, Cadbury’s tastes different, because the climate dictates a higher melting point. Again, none of the children really noticed. Stranger to us all was the fact that Easter was in the autumn. In Australia, a British friend in Queensland put her children’s eggs inside thermos flasks and made the children dive into the swimming pool to retrieve them. In Queensland the eggs would have melted if they had been hidden in her garden the way we always hid ours in Canberra. She did what worked and that was a lesson to me.
Here in Denmark, where we have spent so many Easters over the past decade, we can’t even buy Creme Eggs and are stuck with the Easter dragees that none of us like. So this year I threw tradition to the winds and bought a large jar of Quality Street to hide around the garden instead. I am finally in the place where I understand that the meaning of a tradition is in the joy it creates and not the structure in which we choose to enclose it. I am not saying that I am quite ready to celebrate Christmas on the 24th December. Some traditions die harder than others. But I do put an almond in our ris à l’amande and whoever gets it receives a marzipan pig. I am now ready to meet the Danes halfway.
Quality Street in a Copenhagen garden, waxy Hershey’s kisses in a Florida apartment, odd tasting Cadbury’s hidden in the trunk of an Auckland feijoa tree or under our giant eucalypt in Canberra. Finally, I get it. Despite many years of trying, I never managed to replicate the Easter egg hunts of my childhood, nor the Christmases, nor the birthdays. Now I don’t even try.
The magic of an Easter egg hunt is not in the kind of confectionery we use. It is in the appearance of usually rationed treats, the excitement of the chase, the fun of hunting with siblings or friends, the spring sunshine if we are lucky. My children had just as much fun today as I did at their age. And I watched them scrambling up trees and under the trampoline, wrestling for the purples and the pinks, simply thankful for another Easter memory to add to the joyous stock we have amassed over the years.