In the Christian world, Easter evokes connotations of blossoming life, rejuvenation, and the triumph of the righteous and faithful over the temptations of sin. It also marks the shift in the seasons away from winter, as if to proclaim to the slumbering populace, “Summer is a-coming, arise! Arise!” Boiled down to its essence, it commemorates much of the same sentiment as the Indian festival of Holi, albeit with somewhat more restraint.
I must confess that my experience with Christian traditions is middling at best. Growing up, none of my bosom friends were Christian, and consequently, I never really had the pleasure of partaking in Christmas or Easter celebrations. And while I have ambled my way through a fair few cathedrals in Europe as a holidaymaker and been exposed to Christian customs through TV and movies, I have only ever attended Mass once – as a child, at a church by the seaside, two streets over from my house. I fondly recall holding up a candle alongside my mother and trying in vain to raise it above the congregation.
Not long after, my maternal uncle presented me with a CD containing an animated series of cartoons that retold compelling stories from the Old and New Testament. The tales of Moses the Shepherd were always my favourite, and I remember playing that CD until it was scratched beyond repair. During my recent stay in India, I embarked on a quest to seek it out again, but my efforts proved fruitless. Lost to a dark corner of the attic, I suppose. Later, I even endeavoured to read the Bible, but that too was met with little success.
So, while I identify as irreligious, I’ve lately taken a keen interest in Christianity from an academic vantage point; in particular, to get a grasp of its place in the Dutch household. Sure enough, when MoTiv announced its ‘Christmas Lunch’ event last December to bring together internationals and Dutch families, I jumped at the opportunity and signed up. My hosts were a delightful family of architects in Delft who informed me that for them, and many others in the Netherlands, Christian festivals served less of a religious purpose and more of a social one – a means to unite kinsfolk from across the land at one banquet table and under one roof, like in the days of old. The refreshments retained a quaint charm, being an assortment of sweet breads, pastries, cheese, biscuits, and cookies, washed down with red wine. The festivities, meanwhile, exuded an atmosphere of warmth and intimacy, with an array of board and card games and much laughter. One might say it was gezellig.
I gleaned that Christian festivals carried a healthy mix of spiritual and communal significance for them
Naturally, when the event reprised itself as the ‘Easter Lunch’ earlier this fortnight, I was elated to get involved. On this occasion, a duo from a local church group played host to me. From our exchanges, I gleaned that Christian festivals carried a healthy mix of spiritual and communal significance for them, with the churchgoers comprising a close-knit community. Atop a lovely, handmade linen tablecloth sat a medley of all things Easter – eggs, sweet bread, pancakes, butter lamb, chocolates, jam, and soup. The weather put a dampener on any hopes for an egg hunt, but we did take a leisurely stroll amidst the willows of the Arboretum-Heempark and spot the first bloom of wild tulips!
All in all, while statistics claim that Christianity is on the decline in the Netherlands, I for one, am glad that a semblance of it still remains, along with vestiges of faith. In my mind, these form an essential ingredient in the character of Dutch society as a veritable melting pot of beliefs and cultures. Besides, whatever would I do to sate my curiosity without churches to explore, religions to fathom, and people to meet? Amen.
Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD in Vehicle Engineering at TU Delft. He is an avid player of chess and video games, but he also harbours a special interest for reading and writing fantasy fiction. He doesn’t drink coffee but good music and film have the same effect on him.