This column was originally published April 10, 2004, and updated April 13, 2019.
Here's an Easter horror show that needs your help. My parents traditionally host an Easter dinner at their home and all their brood arrive for the egg hunt and madcap capers on the lawn such as tug of war, egg throws, relays with eggs upon a spoon, etc. For such a fun day of activities my siblings bring along their spouses, significant others, and sometimes a close friend.
Last year I brought my friend "Priscilla". "Priscilla" didn't wish to inconvenience her hosts and therefore asked me to not mention to my mother, the one slaving away in the kitchen, that she is a vegetarian. Well, lamb is the traditional meal at Easter, and my mother each year prepares a tasty one complete with a light gravy and mint sauce. Yum!
Anyway, as the least known guest at the dinner table my mother proudly set the plate of lamb beside "Priscilla" so that she could admire and receive the first slices. While the family said grace my friend gazed sadly at the steaming lamb and began to cry, at first quietly and then in great sobs, overcome with grief that fine Christians were celebrating the resurrection of their Savior with the sacrifice of an innocent, sweet, woolly lamb. The offending dish was moved away and after a trip to the bathroom and some comforting in the hall she was able to pull herself together. For the rest of us, the dinner, especially the meat course, was ruined.
Was my friend over sensitive and inconsiderate to make such a scene? Should I have informed my mother of my friend's dietary needs despite my friend's protest? Will my mother ever let me invite a friend to dinner again?
Dear Lady Black Sheep:
Sounds like your friend failed in her mission not to inconvenience the hosts.
Really, a simple “No, thank you, I don’t eat meat” was all that was needed.
Great Deity of Your Choice above, if your friend cannot control herself more, she will really have to remain at home. Etiquetteer cannot excuse her lack of control after having received a signal mark of honor from your mother. It’s a little like being served the sheep’s eye in certain Middle Eastern cultures. To refuse it is the height of rudeness, no matter how revolting one finds it. This is not to say that "Priscilla" is obliged to eat the lamb offered to her; in the United States most people respect the wishes of vegetarians.
The real lesson here, Lady Black Sheep, is always work with a hostess who is entertaining strangers. One never knows when one may be avoiding a fatal allergy instead of a dietary preference. And in this case an appalling scene could have been avoided.
Etiquetteer thinks it would be a Lovely Gesture on the part of "Priscilla" to send flowers and an Abject Note of Apology to your mother for destroying your family’s holiday, and that you might send your mother flowers, too. Since one of the great themes of Christianity is forgiveness, Etiquetteer hopes and expects that your mother will again allow you to bring guests to your family Easter.
As a child growing up in the south Easter was a wonderful celebration of Sunday School, white pique coats, baskets of goodies and flowers all over. And Easter dinner always featured a wonderful baked ham, homemade rolls, and hand-cranked ice cream. Of course, growing up changed a lot of that but not the Easter dinner to be shared.
Now, here's my latter-day problem. My good Jewish friends have invited me to share a Seder. It was a great experience hearing the traditional messages and enjoying a wonderful array of fine food. I would love to extend an invitation to them to share our feast but these friends are devout Jews who keep Kosher and I do not know how to feed them. My Christian table will include not only ham but also flour, dairy, and a host of other things. At Christmas, I chicken out (pardon the pun) and host a meal at a restaurant but I would so like to share our traditions.
Dear Share and Share Alike:
Knowing you as he does, Etiquetteer understands your heartfelt desire to reciprocate the invitation of your friends to share something equally meaningful. But alas, Etiquetteer can think of no greater insult than to ask Orthodox Jews to sit down to a table with a glistening pink ham on it. That’s the most familiar of all the Jewish dietary laws: no pork. It would not create the impression you desire.
Not being Jewish, Etiquetteer found it necessary to consult an Orthodox friend, who strongly advised against any invitation at all – though she, too, recognizes the spirits of reciprocity and hospitality that motivate you. If they keep strict dietary laws, they won't be able to eat at all. In addition, she explained that the Easter holiday has different connotations for Jews, as it was on Easter when Christians historically enacted pogroms against them. As her Brooklyn-born husband says, "Ah, Easter, the holiday when I'd get beat up."
Etiquetteer might suggest as a compromise an Easter Monday gathering, where you might recycle your lovely decorations and serve a kosher version of your traditional menu.
Would you like to know how a "mixed" household handles celebrating Passover and Easter? We don't celebrate Easter in our house. Since my husband isn't Jewish, his mother's house is where the Easter Bunny comes.
Now we don't expect Grandma to cover this. We just want to establish the difference in holidays that often overlap. We often buy a few sweets, we reuse plastic eggs and our young son has a metal Easter basket. We fill the eggs at night and deliver them to Grandma. Grandma helps us hide them a few days in advance and we're ready for the big day.
This all works out well with a young child. We usually get him a small present, like an inexpensive kite or something he can play with in the bathtub. We buy the gifts and supplies, and Grandma loves hosting the event. This has worked well for the last three years. We also clean up any gift-wrap or wayward grass that always seems to come out of the basket.
Next year, have a column about Passover traditions and how to stay yeast and leavened free for a week!
Dear Separate But Equal:
Thank you for providing one example of how a blended family manages two different traditions. Every family – even those in which both sides celebrate the same religious holidays – has to find ways to spend time with each set of relatives. Etiquetteer is particularly glad you found a way to involve your sweet widowed mother-in-law; this Easter solution must help forge a special bond between her and your son.