Friday, April 07, 2017

Flake News

A perfectly ordinary member of the Church of England moves from the former United Kingdom to Another Country. I forget whether he had to get out in a hurry because they were threatening to intern Remain votes, or whether he was just looking for work. 

Anyway, he’s been there about six months, when his neighbor says “Would you like to come to dinner tomorrow. It’s a big holiday in this country. Bound up with one of our Holy Religious Festivals, of course, but tomorrow night is just a family get together, followed by a silly treasure hunt where the kids win Turkish Delight.”

Well, the Perfectly Ordinary Fellow thinks this is very kind, and he goes, and has a nice time, and come December asks his neighbors round for mulled wine and mince pies and crackers. He stays in Another Country for the rest of his life, treats it as his home, and has kids who just sort of take it for granted that the second Wednesday after the first snowfall of February is Turkish Delight Day. (In fact, he hears that some people in the Old Country are taking up the tradition as well, because it’s fun.) 

But then the Maharajah of Another Country makes a speech. 

“We must all start eating Turkish Delight in February, like we did in the old days,” she says. 

“It is shameful the way Turkish Delight has been banned to appease Anglicans” she continues. 

“Turkish Delight is a very important Holy Religious Festival which shows we believe in the One God (which, by the way, I don’t, but my Dad did) and are definitely not like these crazy Anglicans who think there are Three.” 

Well, I don’t know if the Perfectly Ordinary Anglican buys his kids Turkish Delight (which you can get in all the shops, despite it being banned) that February; but he feels much less comfortable accepting his friend's dinner invitation that year. We can still be friends, he thinks, but as an Anglican I clearly shouldn’t be part of one of these people’s Holy Religious Festivals. Holy Religious Festivals remind me that I can never really be part of this country however long I stay here. I guess that’s the point of them. 

That night, hardly anyone goes to the Temple of the Definitely Only One God, but everyone eats far too much Turkish Delight and gets sick. 

A few years later, one of the Perfectly Ordinary Anglican's kids is beaten up by a group of thugs shouting "Another Country Above All The Other Countries!" and the Perfectly Ordinary Anglican, fearing he has no home in this world any more, jumps off a bridge. 

“How do such terrible things ever happen?”says the Maharajah. And they all live happily ever after.

If we can believe the Guardian, and I am increasingly unsure if we can, the National Trust has “axed Easter”, “omitted the word Easter from its annual children’s egg hunt” “airbrushed Christianity out of its annual chocolate egg hunt” “scrapped any mention of the Christian festival” and (again) “omitted Easter from the egg hunt.”

The Prime Minister — the actual Prime Minister — was reportedly Very Angry about this. “Easter is very important. It is a very important festival for the Christian faith for millions across the world. So I think what the National Trust is doing is frankly just ridiculous.” The reliably nutty Archbishop of York did his best to diffuse the situation, saying that the decision to not use the word Easter was “tantamount to spitting on the grave of John Cadbury.” (*)

Interesting choice of words, I should say. "Axing" implies premature cancellation, as when a TV station cancels a show because of poor ratings. "Axing an Easter Egg hunt" I could understand — it would mean that the event used to happen but wasn't happening any more. "Axing the word Easter” not so much. The same goes for “scrapping”: you can scrap a Royal Yacht or a library, but not usually a piece of vocabulary. Even “omitting the word Easter from it's egg hunt" I have a problem with. I don't think children ever did scramble around Leigh Woods chanting "Easter, Easter, Easter, Easter." And “airbrushing” is incredibly loaded. “Airbrushing” means “changing or ignoring an historical fact” — like never mentioning that there were black soldiers in the first world war, or saying that Stan Lee created Spider-Man.  It's a word, significantly, which is most often used in the context of communist Russia.

The allegation is not really that the the National Trust has axed, scrapped, omitted, removed, banned, airbrushed or abolished Easter, the Easter bunny, Easter Egg hunts or the Christian religion. The allegation is simply that they have removed the word "Easter" from the advertising and branding of this year's Egg hunt.

And it's just not true.

It a brilliant publicity stunt on the part of Cadbury and the National Trust, actually. I was vaguely aware of Easter Egg hunts as one of those mostly American things that has taken off here a little bit: people with big enough gardens hiding little chocolate eggs for the kids to find. Maybe some churches and schools do it too. I am quite sure that somewhere in the Derbyshire, in between the village which does the Pancake Race and a the village which does the Black Pudding Two Hundred Meter Hurdles you can find a village where an ancient tradition of beating the parish bounds with hard boiled eggs painted with colours of the Duke of Argyle is still observed. But did you know that the National Trust ran official hunts for Cadbury’s chocolate eggs on their properties, and have done so for some years? I certainly didn’t.

Last week's egg story was a little bit more nuanced. Most eggs don’t have the word “Easter” on them, but then, they never did; most eggs are halal, but then they always were. But this weeks is complete fiction. You can prove this by a simple experiment: go to the Cadbury's National Trust website at

I will say that again:

The first thing you will see is a headline saying "Enjoy Easter fun at the National Trust..." You will also see links to “Easter Range” and “Easter Events”. The first takes you to a Cadbury's chocolate catalog, which tells you that "Our eggstensive (ho-ho) range is packed with treats for the Easter period..." including "The Cadbury Easter bundle..." and  "Our Easter favourites...."

If you follow the link to "Easter Events" your will find the dates and times at which the “Easter Egg Hunt" takes place (from 10 -3 on Good Friday and again from 10 - 3 on Easter Saturday.)

It is true that there is a logo that says "Join the Cadbury Egg Hunt". But that seems a small thing to make a moral panic about.  

“But what have chocolate eggs got to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus in the first place?"
you are probably going to ask me. Well, some people say that there was a pagan goddess called Easter who rode around Narnia on a sledge pulled by magic egg-laying rabbits. Others point to a suppressed gnostic gospel in which Jesus hatched out of a giant crocodile egg like Isis. Rather desperate clergymen say that when the Very Early Christians wanted something to remind them of the stone that was laid in front of Jesus' tomb, what naturally occurred to them was an egg (as opposed to, say, a stone). The story that is most likely to be true is the most boring one: Christians give up rich food and treats after Pancake Day and start eating them again after taking Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. So naturally, Easter afternoon involves chocolate, eggs, cakes, bonnets, and Morris dancing.

The period of abstinence is called Lent; it is supposed to remind us of Jesus forty day fast in the wilderness. The last and holiest days of Lent are Good Friday (the day Jesus was killed) and Easter Saturday (the day he lay in the tomb). 

I don’t want to come across as very pious here. This Good Friday I shall probably go to Bristol Cathedral in morning and Bristol Folk House in the evening and one of Bristol's many fine coffee shops in the afternoon and I haven't give up anything at all. But you really can't have it both ways. You can't claim that chocolate eggs are mainly a symbol of resurrection and new life and then start eating them on Good Friday. You can't claim that eating chocolate eggs is mainly part of the Christian feast of Easter and then recommend that people do it on one of the fast days.

A lot of people are seeing this story as a bit of a joke; as our Prime Minister focusing on chocolate eggs when she should be concentrating on starting a war with Spain. I think it is much more sinister than that.

The story that Theresa May has put on all the front pages is not that, (interestingly enough), the word Easter is being used less and less nowadays. The story that Theresa May has put on all the front pages is that THEY have stopped YOU from celebrating, sorry, saying the word, Easter -- where "they" ARE commies, Europeans and, especially Muslims. Making up stories about how the National Trust have banned Easter, Birmingham has banned Christmas, London is a caliphate and Tescos have straightened all their bananas is a tactic which the racist right uses to radicalize white people. The more we can pretend that Easter and Christmas and Valentines and Bonfire night and the Eurovision Song Contest are Christian events, the less Muslims and Sikhs and Jews and Richard Dawkins can participate in our local culture.

I think there may be an even nastier side to it.

I think that the banning of Easter and Christmas and the Sharia regime in Birmingham are objects of faith for the very far right. Winston Smith had not only to say that two plus two equaled five, but actually believe that it did. I think that when someone -- a Prime Minister or a Bishop -- looks steadily and full on at an Easter Egg and says "There is no Easter Egg here" they are signalling very clearly which side they are on.

(*) John Cadbury was a Quaker and would probably not have celebrated Easter in the first place. Quakers don’t really keep holy days, because they think that all days are holy, in the same way that they don’t celebrate the sacraments because they think that everything is sacramental. In the past, they preferred to say First Day, Second Day, Third Day, so "Easter Monday" is unlikely to have been a big thing. Chocolate eggs were invented by Bristol's Joseph Fry in 1873 but John Cadbury had started making them within a couple of years. A price list from John Cadbury’s lifetime is headed “Easter Eggs”, although the individual products are just called “eggs”. (Some of them seem to have been ordinary chocolates in elaborate egg-shaped packaging, incidentally.)  But a flier from a few years after John Cadbury himself died is already calling them “chocolate eggs” (for the milk chocolate ones) and “Bournville eggs” (for the more expensive dark chocolate ones). They are decorated with secular spring flowers made of icing sugar and marzipan. Quakers are sometimes thought of as puritans, but I don’t think Cadbury would have had any objection to children’s treasure hunts. He clearly didn't have any objection to chocolate! He would have had a very simple grave, but I don't think he would be turning in it over what people called his eggs. 

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