Canadian Easter: Phoebe Maltz Bovy experiences the culture shock of colliding springtime holidays

Even the library is closed!

I have never in my life been as aware of Easter as this year, my first post-pandemic one, with small children, in Toronto. I suppose it started when prepping for the long (still underway, in the case of the child in public school, not daycare) weekend. So many Easter closings to consider! So many days without supermarkets!

Ostensibly secular schools and daycares break from their otherwise year-long dedication to multiculturalism and assume if you’re there, I suppose, and not at a Jewish school, you’re all about Easter. And it’s not euphemistic, it’s not spring holidays or something, it is Easter. These are, after all, national holidays, these many Easter days, days that I, an American Jew who moved to Canada in 2015, had hardly even known existed.

And I don’t entirely know what to make of it. If I were an observant Jew, I wouldn’t have been at the supermarket on the first day of Passover in the first place, a cart full of non-matzah-type items. So why wouldn’t the cashier wish me a Happy Easter?

To be a secular Jew, when I was growing up in New York City, was largely about not celebrating Christmas. The trees, the wreaths, even the colours green and red in combination, were somewhat fraught. Christmas was this eerie time when everyone else was having fun but you were not. I know there are secular Jewish families who do a lively Jew-at-Christmas thing involving Chinese restaurants, but mine was more inclined to stay home, grumbling about how everything was closed. It would always bring this sense of relief when the 25th itself was behind us.

Easter brought with it no such concerns. You could be Jewish and dye eggs, be Jewish and eat Peeps. It was Christian-adjacent, but no more so than Halloween, as in I’m sure observant Jews would not do these things (also who knows what’s in a Peep), but it wasn’t Christmas.

When I think back to why this was, I suspect it had something to do with Easter itself falling on a Sunday, and neither Good Friday nor Easter Monday being national holidays. There was no general wishing of happy Easter. If someone had said this to me in New York I’d have assumed they were either a missionary or extremely confused.

It’s not that Easter in America isn’t a big deal. It is an important day… for Christians. My social media feeds are full of photos of friends and acquaintances celebrating the holiday by dressing up and going to church. But Americans I know who are secular, whatever their family background, don’t really do anything for it.

Here, from what people have told me, and from what I’ve surmised, Easter is a supermarket-candy holiday, joining Halloween and Valentine’s Day as a time when you have to gauge how much chocolate a child of how old can eat, and in what shape. Which is, I guess, fine. But it does say something about how Christian the supposedly secular mainstream society here can feel. Something to contemplate while demolishing a Ferrero Rocher squirrel.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @bovymaltz