I don’t think I could love anyone who smiles when newsreaders – at gunpoint, I trust – report on the progress of Santa’s sleigh. Never does the dread phrase “only a bit of fun” more vigorously curl the lip. We’re getting this at Easter now.
Yes, I know it’s a time of crisis. Yes, I know it’s particularly difficult if you insisted upon having children. Sorry and all that. But Simon Harris’s pronouncement on the Easter bunny put my gag reflex into paroxysms. “Important news for children,” he tweeted. “Many of you contacted me & asked … if the Easter Bunny was allowed work this weekend. I have checked with our top doctors & the good news is he can.” Nurse! The kidney dish!
Never mind the nauseatingly cosy tone. Here’s the real issue. Since when did this mythical rabbit become part of Irish Easter? When I was a child (screen turns to monochrome, violins accompany the sounds of hooves on cobbled streets), the season was about the bloody death of the God child and his subsequent miraculous recovery. The St Matthew Passion. There is a Green Hill Far Away. All that stuff.
When I was a child, nobody pretended the Malteser or Crunchie eggs were delivered by a supernatural leporine presence
Okay, that’s a lie. Then as now, Easter was mainly an excuse to eat chocolate in the shape of novelty ovoids. But nobody pretended the Malteser or Crunchie eggs (shot of apple-cheeked child munching to the strains of Little Jimmy Osmond) were delivered by a supernatural leporine presence. My Auntie Daphne did that and she got the credit she deserved.
Softball and root beer
The Easter Bunny and his foreign egg hunts were largely unknown here until the end of the century. Most middle-aged people regard him as some American thing encountered in Bugs Bunny cartoons. He belongs with softball, root beer and the sale of bazookas in Walmart. Yet children, young adults and teenagers (like Simon Harris) view the creature as an integral part of the domestic festival.
Will the creeping Americanisation of our culture never cease?
The Easter Bunny is largely a German invention and it has remained part of north European culture for centuries
The rise of the Easter bunny is analogous to the similar bastardisation of the Irish Halloween. In both cases a European invention is being flogged back to the old countries in homogenised, marketable form. We can claim the autumn festival as our own. But I’m not sure I had even seen a pumpkin in the flesh until I was a grown man. Trick or treat, a variation on an Irish tradition, seems, under that name, to have taken off here after the success of ET in the early 1980s. If you are in your mid-40s you probably remember it. If you are in your mid-50s you probably don’t.
The Easter Bunny is largely a German invention and it has remained part of north European culture for centuries. The film critic Guy Lodge, who writes for Variety, attributes its prominence in the country of his birth to Dutch influence. "Very much a thing in my 1980s South African childhood, and my parents largely did these things according to their own experience, so I think it goes back some way," he told me.
Yet, despite making its way to the other end of the planet, the tradition just couldn't get itself across the North Sea. In order to set in here, it had to go to the US, get transferred into corporate junk and hitch its way back as – among other things – a useless 2011 movie featuring the perennially unwelcome Russell Brand. Now we're stuck with it.
Right about everything
Our parents were right about almost everything. Drop into almost any Irish home in the past 100 years and you’ll find them complaining about the malign influence of the US on domestic culture.
Obviously, we wouldn’t be without rock’n’roll, Hollywood or tomato ketchup. Let’s be reasonable, the place was a genuine dump before those things arrived to wake us up. But a tussle between disdain and admiration has been raging since at least the last war. Look at the American tourist in Fawlty Towers. He may be vulgar in his language and flash with his money, but he’s right about the shoddiness of the British service industry. Even in the age of Trump, we still want to be like them.
We're saying "I'm good" for "I'm fine". We're saying "lawmaker" for "politician". We say "grilled cheese" for "toasted cheese"
Younger people have, thank goodness, learned to look elsewhere for influence. Never before has east Asia – particularly Japan and Korea – had such an influence on youth culture. But we’re still dallying with the American versions of Halloween and the Easter Bunny. We’re saying “I’m good” for “I’m fine”. We’re saying “lawmaker” for “politician”. We say “grilled cheese” for “toasted cheese”.
We may have only a few years before Irish politicians are wishing us “Happy Thanksgiving”. At which point, I’m off to set up shop in Pyongyang.