Easter in Trinidad and Tobago

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Crosses and sunset. (photo: courtesy of Gerd Altmann).

Easter Sunday is the most important time for the Christian believer. In fact, in the Bible it is the day when Mary Magdalene found the empty tomb in which Jesus had been placed following his death by crucifixion on the previous Friday. It signifies the end of the 40 days of Lent, meaning Christians who refrained from earthly pleasures during lent to signify Jesus’ time in the wilderness, can indulge themselves again. The name Easter is derived from ‘Ostara’ or ‘Eostre’, a pagan goddess of fertility, whose feast was celebrated on the Vernal Equinox. However, in other cultures, the holiday’s name is derived from Pesach, the Hebrew name of Passover, a Jewish holiday to which the Christian Easter is intimately linked. Easter depends on Passover not only for much of its symbolic meaning but also for its position in the calendar.

Faithful Christians commence the Holy Week beginning with devotions on Palm Sunday – the commemoration of the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem. Holy Thursday – commemorates the Lord’s supper with feet washing, symbolic of the 12 disciples washing their feet before the supper. Good Friday – celebration of the Lord’s passion and death. Easter Sunday – begins with Easter Vigil on Glorious Saturday and ends with the resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday. In Trinidad and Tobago, this is Easter usually a two-week holiday when all schools are closed and marked with public holidays on Good Friday and Easter Monday.

Easter Sunday marks the end of 40 days of fasting for the period of Lent. It is a joyous day for Christians and special care is taken to decorate the churches. It is also a day of relaxation, where friends and family unite for a special meal, trip to the beach or camp site. Easter weekends are busy at beach resorts. Most households would break their fast by eating fish and solid vegetable like dasheen, cassava, yams. The fish of choice is usually king fish or cavali, if one can afford the high price tag. Good Friday is popular for ‘Hot Cross Buns’. Bakeries sell quite a lot as it’s traditional to eat these light sweets during this time.

The most memorable tradition is the beating of the Good Friday “Bobolee”, an effigy symbolic of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Christ. The beating now extends to politicians who have found disfavour with the population. Another popular tradition is the western fusion of the chocolate Easter egg hunt, with bunnies and chicks as children get dressed up with exuberant Easter hats and fancy dresses.

 La Divina Pastora is a uniquely Trinidadian celebration. It is held at the Roman Catholive church in Siparia, southside of Trinidad on the second Sunday after Easter. The church houses the statue of the Virgin Mart as La Divina Pastora (the Divine Shepherdess). There have been unsubstansitiated claims that the statue cries blood and that she is associated with miracles. There is a procession through the street on the feast day, followed by a festival which is attended by believers and non-believers. To believers of the Hindu religion, she is called Siparee Mai (Mother of Siparia) and they also visit the church to offer acts of devotion to her.

Easter wouldn’t be special without the Easter bonnet parades, a long-standing tradition that grew from the ladies’ habit of getting a new hat for Easter Sunday Mass. Many competitions are held throughout the island and young girls have a tremendous amount of fun modeling their unique creations for all to see and admire.

Last, but certainly not least, is the kite flying competition with various types and sizes of kites. Kites like the “chookie chong”, which is made from notebook paper with a tail is the simplest, while the “madbull” generally flown by adults requires some strength to hold the string. The madbull kite has objects attached that cause it to make a whirring or buzzing sound as it flies. The fighter kite, the most dangerous, is designed to cut strings of other kites as they fly, using sharp objects such as crushed glass or razor blades (Zwill) glued to its string.

Easter is so much more than a two-week holiday, it’s a festival of love!!

Subrina Hall-Azih is a Trinidadian educator living in New York.

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