Ancient History

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Calf brains scrambled with eggs were a traditional Easter morning meal at my grandparent’s house. I only ate it once, not knowing what I chewed and swallowed until the dishes were cleared away.

We spent many Easters with family, travelling up and down western Colorado’s U.S. Highway 50. My mother packed floral dresses for my sister and me, little-man shirts and stiff pants for my brother. The night would be spent fitfully, listening for the scritch-scratching of a large bunny. We’d wake to baskets lined with garish plastic grass. Loose jellybeans, Peeps chicks, and Russell Stover chocolate eggs with our names written in cursive on the sides filled the baskets. Hardboiled eggs, dyed in Paas and vinegar the night before, were hidden around the house when Easter fell on cold Sundays, outside when Easter’s sun and wind were warm.

The eggs would be found fairly and equitably—orders were given to the big kids to overlook the obvious so the little kids could have a chance. The eggs were counted and returned to the refrigerator if they were in good condition. Cracked eggs were peeled and rolled through salt and pepper sprinkled on a plate. I’d eat around the yellowgrey core, throwing the “best part” in the trash. Yolks taste viral and biological, although I didn’t have the language at the time to express my sour and powdered distaste.

Yolks were avoided more than black jellybeans, which were given away to a glad, laughing great-grandmother whose voice trembled when she prayed. She was the one who always prayed at family gatherings. Oh, Lord, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies… We’d eat breakfast together quickly because church would be crowded. It was always crowded on Easter Sundays. Let’s hurry and dress, everyone.

My Easter dresses always seemed to itch. Easter dresses are optimists—too many times the weather would still be hissing and spitting winter while our bodies were clothed in pink florals. It was the holiday of cold knees and arms. Stiff pictures would be snapped while we were still unwrinkled and free of chocolate smears.

Church brought a message of triumph over death, new life promised to those who believe, victory, vanquishment, Good News, it can be yours today! There were always baptisms, people clapping, hymns skyrocketed by over-practiced voices. I’d listen and doodle on the bulletins with the little pencils left in the pews. I knew the story of the three crosses on the hill. Two were thieves, one was Jesus. I knew about the open tomb, the empty tomb, the discarded burial clothes. Judas was the betrayer, Peter was the denier, doubting Thomas needed to feel and see. Mary and Mary made the discovery, John bragged about winning the footrace to the tomb. The road to Emmaus was long and frought with dangers. Travellers stuck together, strangers were invited to walk and talk. There were many witnesses. A veil was torn. The veil was torn. The sky grew black, Jesus asked His Father to forgive them—they know not what they do. His side was pierced.

Back at grandma’s, waiting for the children, were baskets of trinkets and candies brought by a bunny who went scritch-scratch in the night.

Back at grandma’s, waiting for the grownups, were ham dinners to make, table linens to unfurl, candles to light, fuss over a feast, and the opportunity to remove pantyhose, finally.

I’ve heard and read many Christians decrying the blurring between secular and sacred when it comes to Easter and Christmas. But isn’t that life? What is sacred about a birthday cake, or Mother’s Day? Why can’t I assign meaning into the deeply-held family traditions we hold dear? What is Biblical about a woman working herself into a tizzy over ham and green bean casserole and lily centerpieces and pressed dresses and hats?

The kids received a book called Easter Bunny, Are You For Real?. It’s written by the CEO of Christianity Today—Harold Myra. In the book, he explains how many Easter traditions came to be. For example, many people used to give up eggs for Lent (probably before cacao was introduced to sugar and milk). When Easter Day arrived, they were free to partake. The illustrations show a family watching the sunrise come up on Easter morning. It shows them going to church together, coloring eggs together, and hunting for eggs outside. In the end, it’s all about the resurrection of Jesus—a message that isn’t lost on a child because they have a bamboo basket with chocolate in hand.

I respect the right of other parents and families to approach Easter and all holidays how they chose. Only God knows the heart of each individual. As my great-grandmother literally shook with love for the Lord as she prayed over an Easter breakfast, replete with technicolor eggs, she taught me how family traditions and cultural traditions point to our Savior—He cannot be undermined by jellybeans.

Neither will I.

12 comments to Faith

  • “He can not be undermined by jelly beans.” I love this line, Mopsy! Indeed, he cannot.

  • Tracy (tjly)

    Love it! Funny that – I had a great grandmother who ate all our black jelly beans for us too!

  • There is nothing sacred about calf brains though…. Oh my!

    Beautiful Mopsy. It was so fun to read your memories of Easter.

  • Harold Myra wrote a similar book about Santa Claus, too, which we have. It’s very good.

  • Lord, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies… my ‘Poppal’ still says this prayer along with ‘knit us closer together’ … love it. When is the book coming out? ; )


  • Well said. I absolutely love reading your blog. Blessings on your day!

  • I remember feeding my mom the black jelly beans. I didn’t like any of them, but she only liked the black, licorice ones.

    My parents somehow pulled off both traditions too, and early on as a parent, I was confronted with whether Easter Baskets were sacrilegious or not. I knew at 5 there was no Easter Bunny, so I was never able to go there with my own kids. Plus, those cheesy “bunnies” at the mall are just downright ugly and scary.

    Thanks for sharing your story, rich in wonderful traditions.

  • Wow. What an inspiring post. I LOVE “he cannot be undermined…” And your traditions are so sweet – I like how well you articulated what Easter dresses feel like and look like – especially in Colorado, where warm enough weather doesn’t ever come by Easter. (I grew up living and visiting relatives along Hwy 50, too!)

  • Shayne

    Such a wonderful post! This year I bought a Veggie Tales movie called “An Easter Carol.” It’s based on “A Christmas Carol” and shows old Ebenezer Nezzer, who believes that the ultimate joy of Easter is found in colorful plastic eggs, coming to a true understanding of the meaning of the holiday. This really helped reinforce for the kids that eggs and candy and traditions are fun and have a place in our lives, but the true joy of Easter is found in the empty tomb.

  • It’s so sweet to have that heritage of balance to draw from. I hope I’m coming close to that with my own kids.

  • bro-de-mopsy

    I’m one of the few that read here that have the unique position or remembering these times with you. Again, thanks for the memories. I can still hear Grandma Cox saying those prayers – oh, and see her eating my black jelly beans. Hope she really did like them ;D.

  • Great post, beautifully written; it reminds me a little of Joseph Bottum’s reminiscences of Thanksgiving and Christmas when he was a child. I’ll definitely save that last paragraph–wonderful reminder that the truth of God is nowhere near as fragile as we often seem to assume.

    I have to ask, you’re talking about US 50 through western Colorado–whereabouts? (We’re up in the north-central part of the state, just north of US 40, west of the Divide; I was hoping for a call to a church down in Durango, but that didn’t happen.)

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