Well, Vicenza has been getting ready for Easter for a number of weeks now with church calendars celebrating the 40 days of Lent with different daily rites and events whilst the shelves in shops and supermarkets all around town have been groaning under the weight of huge chocolate eggs, traditional Easter cakes and imported Easter decorations.
As for me, I have to say that I am still not quite ready for Easter yet. On one hand, I have already managed to chew my way through one traditional Italian Easter cake called ‘Colomba‘ (in English ‘dove’), one Easter sweet bread which is somewhat confusingly called ‘focaccia‘ and it is typical specifically for our current hometown of Vicenza, plus several handfuls of small Easter chocolate eggs.
I was also asked to make a traditional English Easter bonnet for a local event and after some thought this is what I made using an old hat, six fluffy chicks, six colourful plastic eggs and a hen in a nest. It was a success!
On the other hand, I still need to do an Easter shop getting all the food which we will need over the festive period as the shops most certainly will be closed for most of it. Plus, I need to buy at least a couple of those huge Easter eggs which come in a shiny wrap, weigh half a kilo of chocolate and have a toy or a good luck charm inside.
And I mustn’t forget a Colomba or another traditional Easter cake to replace the one which is no more.
The most important thing though is that for me it is not Easter yet.
You see, being Bulgarian, I am Eastern Orthodox Christian and the Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church follows a different calendar to its Catholic and Anglican peers. As such, the Bulgarian Easter is usually a week after the Catholic and the Anglican celebrations have finished. Every now and then though all three coincide. But on rare occasions, the Bulgarian Easter is a whole five or six weeks after the other two and this is just the case in 2016.
When you live abroad for years (15 in my case), there are many things you learn. The most important seems to be how to adapt yourself to your new cultural environment and at the same time preserve your own national identity. Some things you lose, some things you gain, some newly adopted habits live in a happy harmony with your old self whilst other foreign customs leave you a bit unclear as to how to proceed.
For example, I have never had a problem adopting new foods and new ways to think and see life, whilst on the other hand and even though I do try to follow what is happening in terms of politics in my home country of Bulgaria, nowadays I find it a bit difficult to explain the finer points of its internal affairs in a clear logical way (which, perhaps, is not surprising, considering the events there in the past twenty-six years or so).
But Easter and its dual celebration have always left me a bit baffled. Obviously, I would eat chocolate eggs and enjoy the respective bank holidays every year that I spent in the UK. However, I wouldn’t necessarily feel spiritually connected with the celebrations of Easter as such. And then the Bulgarian Easter would come along and I would feel a bit, well, I don’t want to say ‘lazy’, but perhaps, yes, I need to be honest and say it out loud that I would feel a bit lazy to go through all the proper preparations for it and as such I never painted boiled eggs (as this is what we traditionally do in Bulgaria, the chocolate version hasn’t caught up there yet, as far as I know) or bake ‘kozunak‘ (Bulgarian Easter traditional sweet bread).
I would always admire my Bulgarian acquaintances who also lived abroad and who every Bulgarian Easter would post pictures on Facebook showing the colourful eggs they had painted with their kids and the amazingly yummy looking kozunak they had baked for them. Usually, I would simply call my parents to wish them ‘Happy Easter’ and then would feel guilty for not having made an effort to actually do things properly for once.
A few times, I made a point of spending Easter in Bulgaria so as to reconnect with our traditional celebrations. I painted eggs, ate as much as I could of my mum’s kozunak and green salad prepared with fresh lettuce, spring onions, radishes and boiled eggs and I felt like I belonged. Will I make an effort this year to celebrate the Bulgarian Easter as I should when it comes round in May?! I am hoping that I will. Especially as I now have a little daughter who needs to know her Bulgarian heritage.
In the meantime, this coming Sunday we will be focusing on the traditions of the English side of our family with added Italian touches in honour of the country we currently live in. So, we will be happily tucking in sweet foccacia, Colomba and several chocolate eggs whilst, perhaps, wearing an English Easter bonnet or two. Sometimes being caught between cultures and holidays is a very good thing indeed.
I have always perceived Easter as a special time of resurrection of our dreams and hopes, when our zest for life can help us move forward in our quest on this Earth. So, have a wonderful Easter no matter when you celebrate it – now or in a few weeks time!