For the most part, our life here is pretty similar to our life back home in Australia and the transition was pretty easy. There was no need to learn a new language (unless you include trying to understand the Imperial System and Farenheit!), there was no adjustment to weather conditions that we're not used to, we already knew most of the tv shows, and the cultural customs are generally pretty similar. I say generally because there are certain times of year that I am reminded that there are indeed cultural differences between our two countries. And those times are holidays.
Right now it's Easter weekend which is a pretty big deal back home in Australia. It's the biggest holiday of the year. I mean, it's a four day weekend. Holidays don't come any bigger than that. It doesn't even matter if you're not Christian. A magic rabbit visiting homes to deliver chocolate eggs is about as far removed from the original Easter story as you could possibly get. So, much like Christmas, for most Australians Easter comes with no religious context at all. It's just an extra long weekend to spend with family and eat chocolate. And that's what surprised me most about Easter in America. It's such a non-event here. And when you consider how religious much of the country is (or appears to be from the outside), that seems more than a little strange to me. And to every other Australian or British person I know living here too. But maybe to most Americans it doesn't feel like a non-event. Most Americans I've spoken to about Easter are not aware that Easter is a four day holiday in many countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Just like most of my friends and family back home are unaware that it's not much of a holiday here at all. Unless you've lived in another country and experienced their holidays, how would you know that something celebrated in both places could be celebrated so differently?
So that got me thinking about the differences in how we celebrate Easter in Australia and America and I thought I'd share them with you here. A little expat education!
(I should point out, that as I am not religious I won't be going into the religious side of Easter. I grew up in a Catholic family so I am aware of how the religious aspects of Easter are celebrated in Australia [in the Catholic church, at least] but I have no knowledge of how this is celebrated here.)
Easter in Australia is a four day weekend for most people. Over time shopping hours etc have changed a little, but for the most part everything is closed on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. Easter Saturday isn't technically an official holiday however many stores chose to stay closed for this day as well. Good Friday is the strictest holiday of the year when it comes to business' opening hours. Apart from essential services everything is closed. Need to buy milk? You'll have to find an open service station (gas station) as the supermarkets are not allowed to open. The biggest difference between Good Friday and other holidays is that in many places it is illegal to sell alcohol. Good Friday is traditionally a dry day. Pubs and bars will close as soon as midnight rolls around on Thursday night and won't open again until 12:01am on Saturday. As you can imagine, liquor stores do a roaring trade on the Thursday before Easter! In fact, the Thursday before Good Friday is usually the busiest day in supermarkets too. With the stores closed for four days a lot of people feel the need to stock up - even if they usually only shop for groceries once a week. I've always found that kind of weird!
Good Friday and Easter Monday are generally not days off for most workers here. Stores are typically open with their regular shopping hours on these days. Easter Sunday is kind of a holiday here when it comes to retail. Some stores are closed while others have reduced opening hours. Our local supermarket is open but will close early at 5pm
Easter Eggs & Candy
Your average Easter Egg in Australia is a hollow chocolate egg covered in colored foil. They come in a huge variety of sizes but the most common size is a little larger than an actual egg. Sometimes hollow Easter Eggs will be filled with smaller chocolate/candies. The Humpty Dumpty Easter Egg which comes filled with Smarties chocolates is a long standing favorite with Australian kids. Hollow Easter bunnies are also popular. The Lindt Gold Bunny is popular as are other varieties of standing Easter Bunnies. Some chocolate companies (including my hometown's own Haigh's) make Easter Bilbies in a push to bring a native animal to the forefront of the holiday instead of an animal which is ultimately a feral pest! Other chocolates that are popular include Cadbury Creme Eggs, small solid chocolate eggs, and small eggs filled with caramel. Decorative sugar eggs are also a traditional favorite. But by far, the hollow chocolate egg wrapped in foil is king.
Easter eggs often appear in supermarkets in Australia right after Christmas. As Easter approaches the displays become huge. Some supermarkets and department stores have an entire Easter department or aisle filled with chocolate in addition to the regular chocolate and candy department or aisle. Easter eggs are advertised on television a lot.
When our first Easter in America was approaching back in 2012 I was surprised at just how little advertising there was. Easter Eggs don't appear in stores until maybe a month before Easter, depending on when it falls. The difference of course is that America celebrates another holiday in between Christmas and Easter: Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day is celebrated by some in Australia but it's not the huge candy filled extravaganza that it is in America. Much like how Thanksgiving keeps the Christmas displays in stores at bay until December, Valentine's Day (and St Patrick's Day to a smaller extent) keeps Easter at bay until it's almost here. Stores have relatively small displays of Easter goodies here in America. In fact, our local supermarkets have larger Passover displays than Easter displays.
The variety of Easter Eggs on offer in America is tiny compared to Australia. Hollow foil wrapped eggs are hard to come by. I'm yet to find any but I have been told multiple times that they do exist. Most Easter Eggs here are on the smaller side and are filled, usually with caramel or peanut butter. Adapting to America's peanut butter obsession can be a little tricky for many expats! Solid chocolate bunnies are common, and (thankfully) so are Lindt Gold Bunnies. The biggest Easter candy in America appears to be the Peep. For my non American friends, a Peep is a brightly colored marshmallow bunny or chicken. I am yet to try one as just looking at them makes me feel like my teeth are decaying! You can see what they look like here.
Easter Egg Hunts
In Australia we hunt for chocolate eggs. Traditions vary among families but for many the Easter Bunny will hide chocolate eggs when he visits before everyone wakes up on Easter Sunday. Others will have an Easter egg hunt with family and friends. Some families hide real eggs that have been colored, but in general it's chocolate eggs that we hunt for.
All of the egg hunts that my kids have taken part in here in America have involved colorful plastic eggs with treats inside of them. I'm sure that these plastic eggs must exist in Australia, but I honestly had never seen them before we moved to America. Hunting for dyed hard boiled eggs seems common too. This is what we do with the kids now.
Hot Cross Buns
It's not Easter in Australia without Hot Cross Buns. Much like everything else Easter related, they start to appear in stores as soon as the Christmas decorations come down. Hot cross buns in Australia are usually sold in packs of six (like these ones here.) It is not common for them to be sold individually. They are baked closed together so they need to be pulled apart to get each bun. Hot cross buns are best served toasted with a little butter. Mmm... they are so good. I would eat them all year round. The cross is made of flour and water and is crispy. Many bakeries sell different flavored hot cross buns (chocolate, blueberry, fruitless...) but traditionally they contain a variety of dried fruit including sultanas (raisins), currants and orange peel.
Hot cross buns are hard to come by here, or at least in our neck of the woods they are. Over the last few years I have found a few stores that do indeed sell them but they are very different from the traditional hot cross buns I am used to. To begin with they are almost always sold individually and, here's the shocker for hot cross bun purists, the cross is made of icing. Icing! This means that cutting your hot cross bun in half and toasting it is impossible, unless you want the icing to melt everywhere. The other difference is that hot cross buns are rarely available here any earlier than a week or two before Easter.
In Australia Easter falls in Autumn. This means that all of the Spring related Easter themes really make no sense at all. But we stick with them none the less, much in the same way that Christmas in Australia is filled with wintry themes despite it being Summer. I associate the smell of dry pine needles with Easter as I used them to fill my Easter basket with them as a kid. This was just something my family did and I don't believe it's a general tradition (we happened to have a small pine forest at the end of our street). The dry pine needles are long gone by the time Easter rolls around here.
In America (and everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere) Easter is a celebration of the coming of Spring. The spring motifs of baby chicks and lambs, the soft pastel colors, and even the eggs make sense. For those in places with long cold Winters (ie. not California!) the coming of Spring is reason enough to celebrate. I've noticed that in general, the coming of Spring seems to be a bigger celebration here than Easter.
Easter clothes? What are Easter clothes?
From what I can tell, there's a tradition here of dressing children in formal wear in pastel colors for Easter. I guess this has something to do with the coming of Spring. When the change in seasons is as pronounced as it is in much of America (and once again the rest of the Northern Hemisphere) I guess there's a reason to go out and buy new clothes in the colors of the season to celebrate. The fact that it's almost always formal wear is probably just an old and outdated tradition - like how it's an old and outdated tradition in Australia to not drink on Good Friday! From what I can tell from ads on television, Easter shoes seem to be a thing too. This could just be Spendless Shoes trying to make me buy more crap though!
Ok, so there you have it. The main differences between Easter in Australia and America (from my experiences at least). Have I missed anything? Are there Easter traditions that are celebrated where you live that are totally foreign to your friends and family in other countries? I'd love to hear.