into the woods

by bam

leave it to the italians. they have a name for today. they call it “pasquetta,” or little easter.

why, they wonder, after all the deprivation and darkness of lent, the shadow that burst, finally, into light, into the unbridled exuberance of easter, why, they wonder, why pack it up like so many leftover baskets, and tuck it on the shelf ’til next year?

mais non, they would say if they were french. but, of course, they say it in italian. dag nab it, is what they mean, though, again, they don’t say it quite that way.

those smart italians, they do a very smart thing: they grab one of those baskets, they pack it with leftover yummy things from easter, and they take to the woods. specifically, they set out in search of a watery place.

water, on pasquetta, is key. there is, depending on your level of gusto for this little easter, some splashing involved.

in fact, all over europe today, there are folks splashing. they are not being mean to each other. as a matter of fact, they are partaking of the little easter blessing.

in hungary, apparently, boys knock on doors. girls answer. boys splash girls. girls invite them inside. they feast. they send boys home with wildly painted easter eggs.

on easter tuesday, the girls return the favor. they knock and splash.

it must be riotous, all this knocking and splashing and heading to the woods with your leftover pink and green eggs.

but, besides the fact that it’s quaint, there is, it seems, something rich about the european approach to little easter. to all of life, perhaps, but certainly to little easter.

it is about taking linear measure of time, peeling back the ordinary, extracting mystery and sacred, raising simple hours into the realm of the extraordinary. it is about pushing away the rock of workday expectation, exploring the cavern of the deep unknown, the unexpected. reveling on a monday.

because a friend i love has been telling me for months i need to, have to, must not sleep until i read, “to dance with God,” (paulist press, $14.95) a poetic, eye-opening 245 pages on family ritual and community celebration written by gertrud mueller nelson, i finally cracked the cover over the weekend.

she is very wise, this deeply jungian, deeply spiritual woman, who in 1986 wrote this book while living in california. she says this of what she calls “holy time out”:

“holes are created in time through the creation of holidays–or, indeed, holy days–where the ordinary and everyday stops and time is set apart and not used. every seventh day (sabbatical) since the story of creation is a day of being, a ‘day of rest.’ that is what a feast is. the feast has its origin and its justification in its dedication to celebrating and worship. it belongs to the gods.”

she goes on to tell us that plato, of all thinkers, put it this way: “the gods, taking pity on mankind, born to work, laid down a succession of recurring feasts to restore them from fatigue and gave them the muses and apollo, their leader, and dionysis, as companions in their feasts–so that, nourishing themselves in festive companionship with the gods, they should stand again upright and erect.”

the feast–or holy day–then, is, “the very act which makes the transition from crawling beasts to the upright and conscious human,” nelson writes, “a transformation which makes what is human equal to and a companion (comrade) of the gods.”

i don’t know about you but we don’t spend a whole lot of time around here even noticing feast days, let alone packing our baskets and heading to the woods.

apparently, gertrud does. she says that on easter monday she always let her children stay home from school. they went off to church early in the morning, but then they took off to the woods, often to a marshy place. through binoculars, they watched the water birds, the mating birds, doing their springlike thing. they inhaled the woods, the little tips of tender green budding on all the branches, turning the gray of winter woods into the lacy green of early spring.

getting wet, she says, was always part of the picnic. back to the baptismal waters, and the holy sprinklings, that are so very much a part of easter.

immediately, i found all of this a notion i could warm to: an excuse for picnic. tromping through the woods. stopping time for one more day. stealing children from the classroom, for the sake of exuberating spring (i know, i know, it’s not a word, but i just made it one, so now it is).

so last night, well past sleeping time, i tiptoed in the dark to the bedside of my almost-man-child, the one who loves the woods and who also had just flicked out the light when he heard me coming up the stairs. i told him my little easter idea. at first, he broke out in a grin (he turned the light back on, that’s how i know that), but then he thought about the school day, and thought, not even for a lunch hour picnic could he leave the load at hand.

oh, well, i sighed. fact is, we might have done our little easter backwards. we had taken to the woods already, on big easter. taken kosher-for-passover-for-easter picnic to the woods, in our glorious mixing of religions. it seemed the place to be, the woods that is. for all the reasons up above.

but still, i think, i might take the little one on a pasquetta picnic. or maybe in the twilight, i’ll take my boys by the hand, and take them off to where the gods urge us to recline. just one more day, a holy day.

a holy day for splashing in the woods. i think i like this little easter.

all right, all you wise people, do some of you already know and do this little easter? have you been splashing away for years without me? and what of the notion of not confining the holiday to one day, but extending exuberance? might we do well to weave more holiness and more exuberance into our ordinary time? are the italians, and all the europeans, not onto something? something much larger than little easter?

photo credit: my sweet will. taken on big easter. we both spotted the moss island amid the marsh; my camera said it was busy reclining and couldn’t be bothered, so will came to my rescue, once again.

p.s. it’s monday, the lazy susan spins afresh…