Making the move from Dorchester back to my husband’s native Australia was a move I thought I was prepared for – as prepared as anyone can be with three children and a shipping container full of household stuff in tow. By the time we made the decision to relocate, I was as Aussified as a non-native could be: I had worked with Aussies on Martha’s Vineyard first before flatting with more in London and Dublin, and this was well before eventually marrying one. I could name the capital and the Prime Minister; I knew about the Cronulla riots and the controversies surrounding Australia Day. I knew that they refer to the natural treasure in the Red Centre as Uluru, not Ayer’s Rock; that no one throws shrimp on the barbie (just prawns, and absolutely anything else that they can, including unceremoniously an animal that appears on their national crest). Maybe the dingo really did eat the baby. Over the years, I had also gleaned important information first-hand through several visits to the country. In that time, I had concluded that Australia is a combination of being the 51st state of America, with some remnants of the glory days of the British Empire thrown in for good measure – Lizzy II still peers out at us from the fiver. I assumed, naturally, that there would be no surprises in store, and certainly none of a ‘cultural’ variety – did I mention I had seen Crocodile Dundee?
But then, my first Easter Down Under approached. Since there’s no easy way to point out the obvious, painful truth, I’m just going to get this out of the way: Easter is in the autumn here. This brings with it the untidiness of leaves falling and all that other autumn-y business: sweaters emerging, raking, figs appearing in the supermarkets, ‘winterising’ the gardens (I’m still not sure what the hell that means). But we are spared the inundation of pumpkin-flavoured everything, which is more than I can say of American autumnal rites of passage, which also really rubs salt in the wounds of the summer-lovers. Not only does Easter in the autumn mean there’s not a daffodil or lily in sight, but all of that pastel-coloured, Easter-themed brick-a-brack that your Mum puts out once a year is also conspicuously missing. The idea of the rebirth of spring and Jesus, coupled with the dead leaves of autumn, doesn’t exactly gel. But, not to worry, there’s still plenty of (pseudo-spring) lamb. Like the Australian Santa being depicted in board shorts and sunnies, the Australian Easter bunny would probably be best portrayed wearing a kangaroo-skin vest. So they’ve adapted aspects of it to suit their purposes, which is true of many aspects of antipodean life.
Then there’s Good Friday, which, if you take the ‘when in Rome’ approach, could very well run you the risk of eternal damnation – don’t say you haven’t been warned. Good Friday is a public holiday in Oz, which means that pretty much everything – aside from gas stations – is closed. In America, thanks to the separation of church and state, this doesn’t apply, but Boston (and in particular, Dorchester with its high Irish-Catholic population and no less than 87 parishes) certainly bestowed a certain amount of reverence on the day. Upon discovering that everything was closed here, I was surprised to find that the Aussies take this whole Good Friday gig so seriously – their national identity brands them as fun-loving, like turbo-charged Canadians. And they do take GF seriously – only not, as I expected, in the religious sense: Australians are serious about their fun, and Good Friday is no exception. One of my first pre-Good Friday encounters in Oz went something like this:
Neighbour: Hey, what are you guys up to for Good Friday?
Me: Contemplating the state of my soul, and how Jesus died for our sins, y’know, the usual. You?
Neighbour: We’re having a few people are around for some beers and a barbie if you want to come.
Me: There will be…meat involved?
Neighbour: Too right! It’s a barbie! Just BYO drinks.
Me: *Insert gasping emoji here*
I could feel my throat constricting, anaphylaxis-style, at just the thought of eating meat on Good Friday. I really wasn’t in Kansas, or Dorchester, for that matter, anymore. When I was growing up, Good Fridays were solemn. This meant a large part of the day was spent moping around pretending to be pious, but mostly we were still recovering from having seen Mr Doherty’s feet exposed the evening before (which only Mrs Doherty and Dr Cohan had seen since circa 1982) in all their glory, at the Mandatum on Holy Thursday. Of course we were also secretly waiting for Lent to end, so we could enjoy chocolates and whatever else we gave up, but there was at least a pretence of contemplating being a sinner, considering how our Lord died on the cross for us at 3pm, precisely. The highlight of Good Friday mandated attendance at the Stations of the Cross, the bizarre schadenfreudic ritual that only other Catholics understand. But never, under any circumstances would we eat meat. Or celebrate. Eternal damnation threatened!
But here in Australia it is a markedly different sort of holiday. Australians aren’t particularly loyal to traditions, especially not ones they are suspicious of being imposed by the Empire-and-Queen-loving Brits and its accompanying Church of England. Like the Japanese, they are forward-looking, and with regard to traditions, this means they only embrace the ones they invented, like Australia Day, or shrimp (shrimp!) for Christmas lunch, and the knack for abbreviating most words. And of course, no list of Australian traditions would be complete without mentioning camping at Easter. Easter is the biggest travel weekend of the year in Australia, akin to American Thanksgiving. If you don’t believe me, just have a quick breeze through the undisputed mirror of seasonal cultural values – Aldi Australia’s catalogue: Found within its pages are tents, sleeping bags, LED lanterns, and oh God – the meat! There are also those collapsible chairs that come in a bag that your mom can never get out of unassisted, especially after two V&Ts. Camping and meat and autumn and Jesus is certainly markedly different than what my Irish-Catholic traditions dictated. But even if you hate camping, it has to be better than seeing Mr Doherty’s gnarled feet being washed by Father Finn, being dragged to the Stations, and dressing up for the Sunday mass (in usually unseasonable clothing that was designed for spring, which we know no longer exists in New England)?
While I have had to embrace many things about life in Australia, overwhelmingly most of them positive, there is a part of me that misses the Catholic-ness of my previous Good Friday traditions of St Brendan’s Parish. As a parent, how can I ever replicate that benignly-motivating sense of guilt in my own children when we’re camping by the bank of a river and sitting on coolers eating sausages? But what’s Catholicism if it’s not accompanied by a little threat of eternal damnation, right? However, I will still manage to enjoy the chocolates of Easter ensconced in the knowledge that bathing suit season is months away. As for my soul? Well, hopefully purgatory is still a while away.