A belated Happy Easter!
One of the more unexpected aspects of moving to New York has been the way in which it’s made me think about traditions. I suppose this is less to do with New York per se, and more an extension of the growing-up-and-moving-away-from-home thing, but I think it’s also because life in NY is simultaneously familiar and alien (from my British, rather London-centric perspective, at least), which encourages me to re-evaluate things which I’ve always taken mostly for granted.
Take Easter, for example. I have plenty of happy childhood memories of Easter eggs, but I don’t believe my parents made any significant fuss over the day itself. Since I started working Easter has mostly been a celebration of the first long weekend since the Christmas holidays, and usually marked by a visit to friends or family. Our music director at church in London resigned himself to the decimation of his voluntary choir as singers dispersed for the duration, and whilst we might possibly have dropped into a convenient service elsewhere, Easter morning was much more likely to see us tucking into a hearty breakfast and planning a day of entirely secular activities.
Not so here:
I’m not entirely sure whether this is an Episcopal Church thing in general, or St Bart’s in particular, but Easter here is the biggest event of the year. From Palm Sunday through to Easter Day everyone at St Bart’s is kept extremely busy, and all three choirs get a major work out (the professional singers even more than us volunteers). The most dramatic element is the Easter vigil service on Saturday night, which is completely unlike anything I’ve experienced before – we begin with candle-lit plainsong and end with bright lights and incense.
Easter morning itself is greeted by floral arrangements on a scale that would put the fanciest of society weddings to shame, and the choirs are joined by a brass quartet and timpanist. The music ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime, and the service always ends with a truly massive rendition of Widor’s Toccata – one of the few occasions when our organist quite literally pulls out all the stops (sadly I couldn’t find a recording of this online, but just in case you’re interested, this link is us all singing on Easter morning [music begins at the 30-second mark], and this is a rather nice general video about the organ at St Bart’s.)
By the time we’ve done two services it’s most definitely time for some refreshments, and some traditions really have to be maintained – this year we adjourned to the apartment of some British/American friends for an excellent lunch of roast lamb. Circling back to my opening paragraph, it seems that the traditions to which I am most attached almost invariably involve food (probably not a surprise…), and Easter without lamb is clearly unthinkable!