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Easter displays like this one usually pop up in stores the end of March.  (Ashley Orich)

Hopping into Easter with COVID

Holidays during a pandemic can bring together
old and new traditions on a digital landscape
By Ashley Orich

EASTER HAS BECOME a celebration known mainly for chocolate, eggs and a bunny. However, this might be a good time to remember that the feast is important for many other reasons, and to many people. This is one of the most important times of year for three of the world’s major religions. 

For Christians, it marks the day Jesus rose from the dead, three days after his crucifixion. Churches usually host elaborate services through Holy Week, which runs from Palm Sunday to Holy Pascha (Easter). This year, those dates run from April 5 and April 12 respectively. 

“It’s the most important event on the Christian calendar,” says Father Andreas Allain of St. George Greek Orthodox Church. “So the Orthodox put a lot of effort into the services for that week.

“We bring out icons that are never used during other times of the year. The readings are lengthened for the edification of the people. There are prayers and hymns that are otherwise not used. The resurrection for us is extremely important. I can’t stress this enough.”

Though Easter always coincides with the Jewish feast of Passover, this year, it also falls just two weeks before Ramadan, the Muslim annual month of fasting, spiritual reflection and community.

However, the steady spread of COVID-19 has presented many obstacles to people who want to observe these occasions.

As of March 25, the Government of Alberta declared that mass gatherings could no longer involve more than 15 people. This makes events like Holy Week – which saw 500 people attend Holy Saturday services last year – hard to put on.

“Basically, at this point, we are only live-streaming the services and allowing for the necessary ministers to come into the church,” Allain says. 

Live-streaming and going online are resources being employed by many places of worship. 

“Some of the options we have come up with are further expansions of what we already do,” says Dawn Stiles, of the First Baptist Church Edmonton. “Calling and visiting those who are unwell, however – we can no longer visit in person, so Zoom, FaceTime, texts and phone calls take their place.”

Delicately designed eggs and cute bunnies are common decorations this time of year.  (Jasmine Graf)

During this time, Stiles, who is the Children and Families Minister, has been using the church’s Facebook page to stay connected. She has been uploading videos of her reading books for the children twice a week, emailing parents and teachers to encourage them to stay connected, and also emailing and using FaceTime to keep the children connected, too.

Recently, she says, it was decided that their church would start to live-stream services, as well.

“It will be comforting for some to see the inside of the church, even though it will be empty except for four people leading the service,” Stiles says. “People love the liturgy that we have every week and now … we will be holding the entire service (online) on Sunday, rather than just the sermon.

“It will be strange to have an empty sanctuary, especially during the joyous time of Easter, but this will be a good alternative to actually being together, still being able to see one another’s faces on the screen.”

So, no matter whether you attend mass or services regularly, there are still a multitude of ways for you to celebrate Easter at home while still practising social distancing. Other options include:

Paint Easter eggs

This can be a time to let your creativity come out even if you need to stay inside. There are different ways to design your own eggs, which can range from using kits found in stores to using food colouring or pencil crayons. You can hard-boil your eggs first (and then eat them later) or you can hollow them out first to reuse them as decorations for future Easters. This thread by Martha Stewart can set you off in the right direction with various tips and tricks.

Have an Easter egg hunt

This one works better if you live with or are self-isolating with more than one person. Take your painted Easter eggs or, if you aren’t feeling creative, chocolate candy eggs, and hide them around the house. Next, add clues to help the egg-hunters know where to look. At the end of the hunt, you can have little Easter baskets with chocolates and goodies set up, because who doesn’t like a sweet treat at Easter?

Support local bakeries and businesses

With the spread of COVID-19, many small businesses are closed, facing a loss of customers and profits. It is important to support your favourite businesses at this time. If possible, place an order for delivery or curbside pickup, or buy a gift card for future use. Since this is a holiday, now is the perfect time to splurge on a nice cake. There are lots of bakeries providing delivery services, such as Duchess Bake Shop and Cake Affair (refer to their Facebook page for details). You simply need to call or order online, pay for your order and they will play ding-dong-ditch and leave your goodies on your doorstep. It’s a win-win: you get cake and they make a bit of money.

Spend time with your family 

It can get lonely being isolated from your loved ones for an extended period of time. If you live with your family or loved ones, be sure to spend extra time with them. Play board games, have movie nights or go for walks, but remember to practise physical distancing. 

Share a nice Easter meal – or meals – and connect as a family again. See how their day went, talk about your peaks and pits from the day. If you live by yourself, you can still reach out to loved ones. Make a phone call, send a text, or FaceTime to check in on them. You could even arrange times where you FaceTime and have meals at the same time – virtual togetherness.

We talk about how society being connected 24/7 as if it’s a bad thing. Now that meeting face-to-face might be impossible, it’s important to use technology to make these connections with the ones we love. 

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, how society functions has had to change overnight. There will undoubtedly be new normals for celebrating holidays in the future – and that includes Easter on April 12, Passover April 8-16, and the feast of Eid al-Fitr, which ends Ramadan, May 23-24.

However, we can still rejoice with our loved ones in our yearly traditions and celebrations. Now is really a time to get creative with how we celebrate and honour each other.

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