Essay: Understanding the differences between Easters

When my family celebrates Easter, we trade in multicolored plastic eggs for hand-painted hard boiled ones. We also go to church to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ – it just happens on a different day.

Every spring, I need to explain to my peers that my Easter is typically later than it is for Catholics or Protestants because I am Orthodox Christian, a religion concentrated in Eastern Europe. As a Bulgarian-American, I do not mind explaining that the holiday is celebrated differently, but I do become frustrated when my peers routinely misunderstand that my Easter is different from the rest.

I often feel isolated seeing my Christian peers attend church and participate in other Easter activities when I know that I will be late to the party. The holiday is not widely celebrated on campus, and many families that do celebrate Orthodox Christian Easter cannot travel to D.C. because they often do not receive time off from work because it is not a public holiday. Many Orthodox Christian students may also be international students, making it difficult to see family on the holiday. I did not understand the extent to which my peers do not grasp traditions I have followed throughout my whole life, making Orthodox Easter a difficult holiday to celebrate on campus.

When I talk to other students about Easter eggs, my peers may have an image in their head of plastic candy-filled ones sold at CVS. But my Orthodox community in New Jersey hard-boils eggs and paints them with bright colors before bringing them to the annual Easter party. Kids and adults have an “egg fight” in which they use their egg to smash someone else’s egg, and the last unbroken egg standing wins the contest.

While some Christians cook ham and potatoes, my family also bakes foods unique to Orthodox Easter, like Kozunak, a type of sweet bread that is similar to cake. Bulgarian sugar cookies called Kurabiiki are also made specifically for Easter and shaped with cookie cutters. Practicing these traditions is complicated on campus because I do not have a community to celebrate with like I do at home.

Some Orthodox Christians on campus may also be international students because their families hail from countries that celebrate the holiday, like Bulgaria or Russia. These students may struggle to observe Orthodox Easter because their families cannot afford to travel across the ocean for the weekend-long holiday. While my family is from New Jersey, my parents cannot take time off from work to celebrate because their employers only allow workers to take off Easter weekend for Catholics and Protestants. I will largely be on my own this Easter without parents and with few peers to celebrate with.

Unlike Catholicism and Judaism, Orthodox Christian churches also vary by country, meaning the language Orthodox sermons are delivered in differ by the country an individual is from. In America, most Orthodox services are delivered in the language of their immigrant communities, like Russian and Greek, and few Orthodox churches give sermons in English. It is unlikely that my Orthodox peers and I speak the language of the same church, which divides our community on campus and poses another barrier to celebrate Orthodox holidays like Easter.

As an Orthodox Christian, I would be grateful if my friends supported me as best they can on my Easter holiday. Orthodox students face a number of difficulties observing the holiday away from family and on a campus with few other Orthodox peers. I am unsure how to celebrate this Easter away from home because I have always relied on my family to make plans and carry on annual traditions. Catholic and Protestant peers who celebrate Easter this year should feel lucky to be on a campus where they can still embrace the holiday. I am optimistic I will figure out plans before Orthodox Easter comes around, but following tradition may be more difficult away from home.

Galen Ekimov, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.

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