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How to celebrate Easter when church isn't your thing


Spring holidays are approaching. And for people who don't have rituals around these holidays like Easter or Passover, this can be a confusing time. I mean, some grew up in a religious tradition but have since left it. Others may never have had a personal connection to any holiday during this time. And yet there is still something about spring that makes a lot of people want to mark this turn of season - right? - and embrace some kind of ritual regardless of their religious affiliation. One person who's given this a lot of thought is Casper ter Kuile. He runs The Nearness project, which helps foster community online. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Casper.

CASPER TER KUILE: Thanks so much for having me back, Ailsa. Great to see you.

CHANG: So, OK, let's say you are someone who's looking to have some kind of ritual to celebrate or mark this time. Where do you suggest to even begin? Like, is it about picking and choosing traditions that already are out there or inventing something from scratch? What do you think?

KUILE: Well, I think the best place to start is looking outside. You know, the natural world is where things are really changing right now. And, you know, noticing what's changing, I think, is such a big part of what ritual and spirituality are all about. So getting outside, maybe noticing what plants are growing or what's flowering for the first time. You know, I get very excited with the first crocus or with the first daffodil because it just reminds me that winter is not forever. And I think what's beautiful about the seasons is, you know, they remind us of like, yeah, if you're going through a tough time right now, maybe that feels a little bit like winter and that spring will come again. So there's something in the natural world that gives us this promise that whatever we're in right now will come to an end.

CHANG: I was just going to ask you, what do you think it is that makes people crave ritual, especially during this time? - because, I mean, you're absolutely right. Sometimes winter can seem endless. I know here in Los Angeles, it has been pouring non-stop.

KUILE: (Laughter) Yeah. That's right. I mean, rituals of that to help us mark changes. You know, they're really great for marking transitions. And so as we move from one stage of life to another, or perhaps there's a relationship that's come to an end or a new job or a death of a loved one, you know, those are the moments when we want to explore the big questions. We want to mark those moments in some way. And so rituals are there to help us, to help us process those changes, to help us make meaning of them. And that's what religious traditions at their best have always done. And for folks kind of outside of a congregation or that don't belong to a tradition right now, I still think there's such value in finding those rituals to mark that change.

CHANG: I think I'm one of the people that I was talking about in the introduction to this conversation because I am not Christian. I did not grow up celebrating Easter. And I remember as a girl, I showed up with my mom at a shopping mall, a local shopping mall. And we were surprised to find it closed because it was Easter Sunday. And we were like, oh. It didn't even occur to us that the shopping mall might be closed today because we never gave that particular Sunday any thought. So I've always felt kind of excluded during Easter time, that it wasn't for me, and I didn't know how to mark it. And yet, yes, there is something about the spring that that does stir something in me. But I never knew what to do with that feeling.

KUILE: Yeah. No. That makes so much sense because if you're a guest of someone that you're fond of and you get to participate in their traditions or their rituals, absolutely. So often, we get to kind of touch the transcendence that's happening for them and their community by being a guest in it. And, you know, there's definitely some boundaries. I think it's important to navigate around spiritual appropriation - right? - where we take something that isn't ours and celebrate it in a way that we want to. That's a little trickier. But I think being invited into something like that is a beautiful opportunity. But if you wanted to start something yourself, this would be my top recommendation...

CHANG: Yeah.

KUILE: ...Which is to think about, is there something that you love, whether it's in this season, maybe it's a particular creative activity, maybe something outside now that the weather's changing, is there something you love that you can build in as a ritual at this time of year? So maybe it's about, you know, a first dip in the ocean when it's still pretty...

CHANG: Or hiking in the mountains.

KUILE: Exactly. And, like, finding a specific place to go back to at this time of year and building that into a cadence every year. And that's how these rituals grow. And each of us, I think, has the capacity to make those traditions anew.

CHANG: Casper ter Kuile facilitates community through his project, The Nearness. Thank you so much again, Casper.

KUILE: Thanks for having me. And if you ever want to come decorate Easter eggs, you know where I am (laughter).

CHANG: Oh, you're on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.