Thursday, May 12, 2011

Easter in Australia

As it should be, Easter is a one day holiday in the United States.  If it weren’t for the copious amounts of chocolate Easter eggs and marshmallow Peeps in American grocery stores, you’d hardly notice the holiday.  Yes, yes, some things do close for Easter, but it’s always on a Sunday, so half of that stuff is closed anyway.  And really, any place that actually closes for Easter is probably lame to begin with and not worthy of my patronage.

Things are different in Australia.  Easter is a full-on festival.  Now, I’m not Christian, so I don’t exactly know how all of this stuff works, but I’m starting to learn more and more.  I know there’s something involving forty days of misery called Lent, and I believe Ash Wednesday is the day that right-wing Christians incinerate stuff that reminds them of what awful people they really are.  Right?  I’ve heard of Palm Sunday and I know it vaguely has something to do with palm trees (maybe?) but couldn’t tell you much more.  And, finally, I know Mardi Gras is supposed to be some sort of religious observance but it’s been hijacked by drunk people with poor judgment in New Orleans and vastly improved by the gays and their parade here in Sydney.

For me, the best of Easter begins with Shrove Tuesday – or “Pancake Day” as some call it.  Shrove Tuesday isn’t as big in Australia as it is in Britain, but you hear about it due to the sheer number of Brits living in Australia – especially in my office.  Basically, it goes back to dietary restrictions surrounding the Easter holiday and Christians would have to use up their perishables, including milk and eggs and some fatty stuff, and when you combine all that stuff and add some flour, out pop pancakes!  So, it became tradition to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.  I like this tradition.

Then, while all the Christians do their Lent thing, the rest of us wait impatiently for the big Easter weekend.  Easter weekend begins with Good Friday.  I had heard about Good Friday in the States, but never knew what it was.  In fact, I still don’t know what it is.  And frankly, I don’t give a damn.  All I know is that Good Friday is a national holiday in Australia so I don’t have to go to work, and to me, that makes it a good Friday.  Woohoo!  On the flip side, most things do shut down, but lucky for us when we were in Adelaide, both the Haigh’s Chocolate store and the Adelaide Zoo remained open for those last minute Easter Egg shoppers and those who don’t know what to do with their rowdy ankle-biters (children in Australian) when they aren’t in school.

Then there is Easter Saturday, which really isn’t anything other than the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but they call it Easter Saturday to distinguish it from other Saturdays.  Most stuff re-opens on Easter Saturday, albeit for shorter hours often times, but at least you can buy beer and tequila and toilet paper and life’s other necessities.

Then comes Easter Sunday and everything closes again.  I guess this is the actual holiday that commemorates when baby Jesus was nailed to a rabbit by the Romans and forced to lay a chocolate egg.  Right?  Oh wait, did I get that wrong?  Well, whatever.  Everything closes and that sort of sucks so I’m going to blame Jesus.  But I’ll forgive him the next day on… wait for it… Easter Monday!  I know – crazy, right?  There’s actually an Easter Monday and it – like Good Friday – is also a national holiday so shit stays closed, but I get yet another day off of work!  Woohoo!  How do the Christians do it?  Jews don’t get any big national holidays in the United States or Australia, but the Christians just seem to get everything.  On a side note, I would like to remind the Christians that both Hanukkah and Passover are eight days long… so they may want to consider swapping them for Christmas and Easter.  Just saying…

So Easter Monday is there and I have no idea whether or not it is actually a religious holiday or a holiday created by the Australian government to give Aussies another day off work, but I’ll take it either way.

Now, most importantly:  food!  Food for Easter is slightly different in Australia.  Yes, Easter eggs are everywhere.  From the looks of it, I would venture to guess that there are as many Easter eggs in Australia as there are in the United States – which is a pretty spectacular feat considering that Australia’s population is about one-fifteenth that of the US.  Of course, big hollow chocolate rabbits are on display and Cadbury Crème Eggs are everywhere.  But note that, unlike in the US, the Cadbury brand doesn’t pop up solely at Easter – it’s the biggest chocolate brand year-round.  Also, on a sad note, Peeps are nowhere to be found in Australia.  What the hell else are we supposed to watch explode in the microwave at Easter?????

Australians eat these things on Easter called hot cross buns – which are sort of like cinnamon rolls but they have less flavour, and the icing on top is restricted to a single cross – something to do with Jesus – instead of the mass of icing that comes with the frozen Pillsbury cinnamon rolls or the rolls at Cinnabon.  If you add some butter to them, they aren’t totally lame, and I guess they are way better than the American fruit cakes at Christmas, but they aren’t anything that stands out.  But they do end up standing out, mainly because they are everywhere:  every bakery, every grocery store, every convenience store, every coffee shop, and even the Adelaide Zoo!  They’re so big that I wouldn’t be half-surprised if they gave them out on public transport during Easter weekend.  Americans:  have you actually seen a hot cross bun?  You probably haven’t.  But you’ve heard of them, right?  That’s because you think there’s a children’s song about them.  Then there’s this weird moment when you start to sing it and realize that you’re actually singing “Three Blind Mice”.  I know it seems strange, but it actually happened to me, and several other Americans I’ve encountered have done the same exact thing.  Seriously, can you sing the “Hot Cross Buns” song without the next line being “see how they run”?  Is there even a song about hot cross buns?  If not, then why do they sound familiar to Americans?!?!?

We were still out at Tara & Simon’s “shack” for Easter, so it was decided that we would do something special:  an Easter lunch cruise on the Murray River!  We were joined by Tara’s parents and her sister (with husband and two small kids in tow).  The boat looked… well… barely seaworthy, but the food wasn’t bad and the weather was nice, so it made for a fun afternoon.

Ok, Liz, the boat is barely seaworthy as it is, but this is making it that much worse!

Later on, we retired to the shack where we feasted on cheese, crackers… and Easter eggs!

The kids did a little Easter egg hunt...

And these little ones found all the hidden eggs and wouldn't share with us big kids!

But it's ok, because I had something better waiting for me inside...

I can firmly attest that a Haigh’s Chocolate Easter Egg is pretty much the best thing about Easter.