SMOKE: Chocolate Jesus

Originally published: 30 March 2005

Easter 2005 was the best Easter I've ever had.

Maybe I had one or two good ones when I was young and innocent, but ever since becoming old and guilty (most of the time, your honour) they've mostly been unbearable.

This year was great because - like most folks, it would seem - we shuttered ourselves indoors and only made brief sorties into the real world for necessary provisions, before darting back home, hugging the shadows in a furtive manner.

If I ate one Easter egg it was too many - a couple of months ago I opened my favourite chocolate and chugged my way through half of it before realising - in a startling moment of blinding clarity - that I suddenly hated chocolate.

No rhyme nor reason - I've loved the stuff all my life and eaten more of it than the average Swiss town will consume over a 100-year per capita average, but on that black day a few months ago I discovered that I've had enough of it. Hate the stuff now. Mostly.

Although we always had baskets and baskets of eggs as kids at Easter, the main focus in our family was not on the chocolate - it was on the real reasons behind the whole Easter weekend. You know - the small matter of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Those reasons.

Our family took the religious side of Easter a little further than most, although we never quite reached the lofty heights of those okes who crucify themselves in South America every year.

Speaking of whom - what's up with crucifying yourself once a year? I thought that was the whole purpose behind Jesus going through with it and not just smiting himself a bunch of dumbass Romans - so that nobody would ever have to do it again?

Someone tell those okes - they seem confused. It's a seriously crap way to spend Easter.

Our Easter always began 40 days before the actual Easter Sunday, with Ash Wednesday - the start of Lent. I've forgotten the origins of Lent but you're supposed to give up some luxury during those 40 days - like chocolate, for instance.

I hated Lent because I never stuck to anything - all I could really do was give up chocolate or pleasuring myself, and neither was a really viable commitment.

The Sunday before Easter is called Palm Sunday, and we would make crosses out of palm leaves and take them to church with us, where everybody would have similar crosses.

There would be processions that recreated the triumphant arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem on a donkey, before all the Trouble began. A week later those same people who welcomed him to the city would be spitting in his face as he crawled through the streets with a cross on his flayed back and a crown of thorns jammed into his skull.

I've known plenty of folks like that before - they're called two-faced sumsabitches. Two thousand years has done little to change things in that regard, I'm afraid.

The Thursday before Easter - in the Catholic church, at any rate - is called Holy Thursday, and we would celebrate the Passover that night.

We had a whole dinner ritual - everyone would take turns reading passages from the bible that were appropriate - basically the story of how God told the Israelites that he was going to kill every firstborn son in Egypt and if they wanted to save their sons they should slaughter lambs and make marks on their doors with the blood and his angels of death would pass them by.

We had matzos (which were representative of the unleavened bread used by the Israelites that night - they didn't bake their bread because they didn't want to be burning their stoves while deathly angels were floating around outside, murdering children), a bowl of salt water into which we dipped lettuce (I think the salt was the tears of Jesus or something, but I was always confused and thus still am), slices of lamb (no point carving up a lamb just to use its blood on your door - why waste some good meat?) and various other things.

A very solemn occasion. All I ever wanted was to get my hands on the lamb - I don't mind my bit of symbolism now and then, but so help me - don't let me have nothing but crackers and lettuce for supper.

I'm very happy/sad/whatever-I'm-supposed-to-be for Jesus, the Israelites and those unsuspecting young lambs but a man's gotta eat, don't he?

But the worst day of the lot was Good Friday, which was the very next day. It's the worst day of the Christian calendar and if you don't know why then it's time to get your Gibson on, baby.

I know it didn't win any awards, but if you want to know what all the fuss about Good Friday is, take a look at Passion of the Christ.

You'll see what I mean.

Our family once again went the whole hog. Catholic services have a 3pm Mass on Good Friday (Jesus was supposed to have died at around that time) and in that service they have the Stations of the Cross - 12 or 14 points of reflection which marked various stops and incidents that happened to Jesus over this period.

The washing of the hands by Pontius Pilate, the crown of thorns, the lashings, the three times Jesus fell during the journey, the moment when some poor unfortunate was dragged protesting from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross, the moment when Mary Magdalene wiped his face with a shroud (which is now known as the Shroud of Turin - said to contain the image of Jesus's face), and so forth.

We would hold a Stations of the Cross ceremony in our back garden before going to church, and the neighbours would line up in keen anticipation for this highlight of their year. Now that's what we're talking about - here go the Mad Taggs. Crack another tube, mate - this is the shit, baby.

Carrying candles and walking in a procession we would wind our way to the 14 points of the cross which were dotted around our garden, and as we walked we would sing the appropriate verses from a serious tome.

Catholic singing - especially on Good Friday - is not quite your average Britney/Christina genre, and to describe it as mournful and depressing would not be doing it justice.

This morbid family - singing dully and carrying candles - would walk around their garden for an hour once a year, stopping at each point to pray and chant and goodness knows what while ominous thunder clouds hovered overhead (Good Friday was always overcast and gloomy).

You can't beat that for neighbourhood entertainment. Crack out the lagers, stoke up the barbie, call your mates over - this is the good stuff, right here. Them mad Armish folks next door. Next thing it's pitchforks and ghostly gowns in the moonlight, man - I'm telling you. You gotta see it to believe it - Claremont Catholics, dude. Excellent.

There was no decent dinner that night (I grew to loathe Welsh Rarebit), and it was always a thoroughly depressing, boring day.

Easter Saturday was a mite better - Jesus was safely lying in his tomb that day and you could crack one or two hot cross buns if you were feeling particularly impious. Don't tell anyone though.

Then came Easter Sunday and with it piles of chocolate eggs and the invariable easter egg hunt after church. Much singing and merriment.

Why not? A dude who had just been flayed and crucified to death had suddenly woken up with nothing more than a slight but persistent headache and without so much as a by-your-leave walked to the top of a hill and simply rose into heaven.

Fair enough. I'll drink to that.

The rest of that day would be spent at various family gatherings which I was never a great fan of, and the one bright point of the day was the fine luncheon that always ensued.

But by and large I hated the whole period, mostly because the ritual bored me and always left me feeling rather silly. I could never understand why I couldn't just go to those deep spiritual places I was supposed to go to, and I constantly felt like a fraud - which I was. I had to be.

I will say one thing about it all, however - the intention behind it all was in keeping with the specifics of Catholicism, and too few so-called Christians these days do properly observe their festivals.

Everyone loves a choccie (most of us, that is), but not quite as many like having to deal with the religious side of it all, bar a sermon or two or Sunday.

Since I no longer have Christian beliefs the whole period has become redundant for me, and now that I have an outside perspective it all seems like just another big day for the marketing boys.

Do people still take this stuff seriously? Or are most content to simply have their chocolate Jesus? I don't know anymore.

Well, I don't go to church on Sunday
Don't get on my knees to pray
Don't memorize the books of the bible
I got my own special way
I know Jesus loves me
Maybe just a little bit more
I fall down on my knees every Sunday
At Zerelda Lee's candy store

Well, it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied

Tom Waits, Chocolate Jesus, 1999

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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