An atheist's guide to explaining Easter to children

Tracey Spicer: "Putting religion, paganism and commercialism in a blender is bound to be messy."

Tracey Spicer: "Putting religion, paganism and commercialism in a blender is bound to be messy." Photo: James Brickwood

There's one image that sums up Easter quite nicely. It's a zombified Jesus with floppy bunny ears carrying a basket of eggs that look suspiciously like brains*.

You see, our nine-year-old son, Taj, is convinced that Jesus is a zombie. It all began in the year 2011AD, at the Church of the Holy Ghost on Fire (or something to that effect). We were there for a wedding – church doesn't otherwise happen in our family – and, seeking solace from a sermon about sin, I shared with Taj the Greatest Story Ever Told. ("No, darling, not The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of All Things.")

To him, Jesus sounded like a superhero: fighting the bad guys, being nailed to a cross, and rising from the dead. Verily, the progeny of a pair of non-believers was touched by the Holy Spirit. (Better than being touched by the priest, I figure.) Taj declared, "Mum, I don't care what you believe. Jesus is real. And he's awesome."

But our young daughter was confused. "Is Jesus the one who brings the chocolate eggs?" "Did the poor bunny die for his sins?" "Maybe Jesus had Peter Rabbit as his pet?" Then we discussed the merits of dishing up either carrots or brains, deciding on the former due to a lack of the latter.


It's the same at Christmas: "Was Santa born on this day to save the world from its sins?" "Does God decide whether we've been good enough to get presents?" "Maybe Jesus is hiding in Santa's sack, waiting to jump out on Judgment Day to smite us all?" (Okay, that last one wasn't from the kids. It was inspired by the Futurama episode in which Professor Farnsworth cries "Sweet Zombie Jesus" at the possibility of a resurrection in the year 2443.)

To add to the kids' confusion, we're travelling through Vietnam, a Buddhist country, during the school holidays. "But, if they don't celebrate Easter, there won't be any eggs. I don't wanna go!" the kids wailed at once.

Fortunately, we're not the only ones with issues at this time of year. Apparently there's a film called Zombie Jesus!, in which a couple of sceptics and the only Jew in town try to stop the rise of the undead. And in the comic book Prince of Pieces, an irate Jesus comes back to punish people by turning them into pillars of salt and eating their flesh, beef jerky-style. As one character says, "For 2000 years we've been eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Now, it's His turn."

There's even an Uncyclopedia entry detailing what Zombie Jesus said unto the masses: "Braaaiiins ... braaaiiinnnss ... braaaaiinss!" It also includes the killer line, "He died for your sins. Now he's back for your brains."

In order to clear up the confusion for the children, I did some research (on Wikipedia, of course) on the Easter Bunny. "Originating among German Lutherans, the Easter Hare originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behaviour at the start of the season of Eastertide," I read aloud to the kids. "In ancient times, it was widely believed that the hare was a hermaphrodite ... and could reproduce without loss of virginity."

"What's a hermaphrodite?" Grace asked.

"Yeah. And what's virginity?" Taj added.

Time for the tried-and-true distraction technique: "Okay, who wants chocolate?"

The daughter of one of my friends has thought a lot about this (chocolate, not virginity) and says rabbits are mammals, so they don't lay eggs. "It should be the Easter Chicken," Chloe points out.

She's right. According to legend, the German goddess Ostara (no, not Claudia Schiffer, a couple of years earlier) changed her pet bird into a rabbit to amuse the children. The rabbit laid brightly coloured eggs, which she gave to the kids. So even though we celebrate Easter as Christians, its roots lie in pagan mythology: the holiday was created to mark the spring equinox.

Around the world, some people dye their eggs red to symbolise the blood of Christ; others use green to represent new foliage emerging after the dead of winter. Perhaps in the southern hemisphere we need our own traditions? What about painting the eggs gold, the colour of autumn leaves?

"Nah, that's wussy," Taj declared. "What about Jesus Versus the Nazi Zombies for the Stick of Truth?"

After simultaneously considering therapy/praising his imagination, I discovered that The Stick of Truth is, in fact, a video game by the makers of the television series South Park. (Mental note: must monitor the children while they're on the computer.)

I'm not trying to be sacrilegious. Frankly, I admire people of faith. I wish I had some myself. But putting religion, paganism and commercialism in a blender is bound to be messy. Especially for kids, who are surrounded by conflicting messages.

So why not all come together – believers and non-believers – and have a good laugh about it? Picture this: "The all-new chocolate Zombie Jesus Easter Bunny. Coming to a store near you!"

In the words of Proverbs 17:22, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

Happy Easter/Zombie Jesus Day!


* Apologies to any Christians, or zombies, who are offended by this article.