In my old neighborhood, Palm Sunday was kind of the warm-up act for Easter. In church they handed out palm to commemorate Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem and how the people there lay down small palm branches in his path. Somehow the religious symbolism of the palm leaves got lost in our church. Old Italian women dressed in regulation black dresses jockeyed for aisle seats where they could grab as much palm as possible before passing the remaining few scraggly strands down the pew. Most of them had no earthly use for it, but that didn’t matter as long as they got more than anyone else. Every Italian-American home had palm crosses hanging somewhere until Labor Day.
The week before Easter Sunday is a holy time. On Holy Thursday we visited different churches. It was customary for churches to cover up all the religious statues during Lent. It looked as if they were getting ready to move. One thing I remember is my mother dragging me to Klein’s Department Store in Union Square to shop for my Easter suit and good shoes. Families dressed up for Easter Sunday back then, including one year when nearly every guy in church wore charcoal grey and pink, as if by Papal Decree. Being a thrifty woman, my mom always bought clothes that were a "little big" for me so I could grow into them. Sixty years later, I still haven't grown into my Confirmation suit.
In ancient times eggs were dyed for spring festivals. In medieval Europe, beautifully decorated eggs were given as gifts. Carl Faberge, the world-famous goldsmith and jeweler to the Tsars of Russia, created some fabulous eggs that today are renown for their beauty. We continue this tradition today at Easter. Those old egg decorating kits never changed: small swatches of dye to color the water, and those little transfer decals of chicks and bunnies that invariably shredded when you tried to apply them. These colored eggs were also used to make a braided Easter bread that I think was called Pane di Pasqua. Nobody in my family ate it so I had the whole loaf to myself, thank you.
I recall too, certain movies being shown around Easter like Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade", with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland; The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston, Yul Brenner, and the horribly miscast Edward G. Robinson snarling at the downtrodden Jewish people: "Where's your Moses now?!" And "The Greatest Story Ever Told" with Max Von Sydow as Jesus. My wife says she used go see a silent version of "King of Kings" every Easter season at the Plaza Theater in Brooklyn. Her parochial school gave the kids a five-cent coupon that reduced the price of admission to twenty cents. Finally, for some bizarre reason, Channel 9 in NYC always showed that sacred Easter classic, "King Kong."
I connect certain foods, especially treats, to the season of Easter. Yellow marshmallow chicks, milk-chocolate bunnies and of course jelly beans (blacks are my favorite). My aunts would make Easter pies, struffoli (honey balls) pizza grana, ricotta pie and of course the lamb-shaped cake. My poor mother tried to keep candy in the house for her Easter guests, but had to find ingenious places to hide it. I could sniff out a piece of chocolate like a pig sniffs out truffles. I remember once hitting pay dirt when I tracked down a solid chocolate bunny concealed in an innocent basket of folded laundry. My mother went nuts when she went to retrieve it on Easter Sunday only to find that its ears had mysteriously gone missing, and it looked more like the Easter Squirrel.
Funny how the memory works. Short-term memory (did I put on underwear this morning?) tends to weaken, but long-term memory somehow remains strong, as if to keep you mentally connected to who you are and where you came from. I’m very thankful for this.
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