Easter time: we think free hot cross buns on Eastern Avenue, chocolate from that oddly generous tutor, and the childhood nostalgia of bunnies and egg hunts. We think religious imagery of Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the grave. We think that come the 30th of March, we’re off for a week to dive into a sugar-induced coma.
Jesus is an historical figure with varying statuses in different groups. For some, he is the Saviour. For others, a prophet, messianic poser or a person who carries no religious weight in our secular society whatsoever.
But why ‘egg-sactly’ does anyone care about Easter if it is merely one big party? Do USyd students share more opinions than ‘finally, I can sleep in’? Following USU’s Interfaith Week, Easter could be the perfect time to start a discourse and move beyond linear, oversimplified views of its celebration.
In an attempt to obtain a better grasp of how different groups and individuals on campus perceive the public holiday, I spoke to four different societies: the Evangelical Union (EU), the Australian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), the Bahá’í Society, and ChocSoc*.
For the EU, Easter is no trivial matter, nor its historical and religious basis a childhood story. President Declan Twigg said that most society members would see it as the central point of their faith—even of human existence.
“Why it is so significant is that Christians believe we’re all by nature sinful and separated from God, and that Jesus’ death on the cross…pays for sin,” Declan explained.
“His resurrection shows that he is King of the world, but also that we can have a resurrection of our own, by faith in him.”
The EU plans to commemorate Easter by handing out hot cross buns on Eastern Avenue and holding Easter-associated public talks throughout the week, with locations and times on their Facebook page.
However, Declan suggested such symbols carry far more meaning for the EU than their conventionally tokenistic connotations. The society construes them as helpful reminders of the truths that members reflect on at Easter time, rather than the focus of celebrations in themselves.
“For example, the hot cross bun reminds us that Jesus died on the cross and rose again three days later, and that by his death and resurrection we can be saved.”
The president was also concerned there remains an emphasis on commercial aspects of the event, leading to widespread misunderstanding of why Easter matters so deeply to the EU.
“Alongside the holiday, it would be great to see people reflect more on what Easter is about, and whether the claim that Jesus rose from the dead and is king, is true and matters.”
Australasian University Jewish Society
They may not be eating chocolate eggs or sweet buns, but the AUJS have their own symbolic (and delicious) traditions to enjoy.
They’ll be giving away chocolate matzah on Eastern Avenue this week, sharing dinners and wine with family and friends, and singing traditional songs.
That’s because their members don’t celebrate Easter—they hold an eight day festival called Passover, featuring a diet free of the raising agents that mainstream Easter foods include.
AUJS President Ben Ezzes said the occasion is significant for Jewish people as it marks their exodus from Egypt and journey towards the Promised Land of Israel.
“Passover is about the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery, and the start of a new beginning which would culminate in… our homeland,” Ben explained.
However, Easter also reminds the AUJS of deep grief, as they recall past slavery and modern Anti-Semitism—including discrimination that Ben worries adherents at Usyd still face today.
“Anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial are a persistent issue on campus, so it’s important for [USyd] to be a really open and safe space for Jewish students.”
Ben hoped that encouraging a more diverse observance of Easter time on campus would assist in acknowledging a difficult history, and making AUJS members more comfortable at university.
He suggested having interfaith gatherings around the event, expressing his desire for it to be a more inclusive celebration.
So, that expectation that every student will be scoffing Easter foods on Eastern Avenue this week is… false?
“I’ve actually never eaten a hot cross bun,” Ben admitted. “I know the song, but that’s about it!”
For Bahá’í, Easter is not really about the death of Jesus, but encouraging discussions around spirituality more broadly.
“There’d be a lot of Bahá’í going if there was a big Easter event. We’d love to…support it,” said Bahá’í society secretary, James Wood.
A smaller religious group on campus, James described the Bahá’í as an open minded community which aims to discuss important topics with people of both religious and non-religious backgrounds.
Members believe Jesus was a manifestation of God and a prophet of a major religion they respect, but view the resurrection as a symbolic event.
“We see it as a time where Christ died,” James said when asked about Easter’s historical basis. “We don’t see it as ‘Christ died and redeemed humanity’”.
Nonetheless, followers of Bahá’í hold their own celebrations near Easter which deserve equal recognition. These include Naw-Rúz, which marks the beginning of the Bahá’í calendar on the 21st of March, and Ridván in mid-April.
James also raised a concern that USyd students are apathetic toward spirituality. “We’d love to see a bit more respect for the legacy of people like Christ in society.”
He revealed that the heads of major religious groups at USyd had recently met to discuss holding regular events together, an initiative the Bahá’í are passionate about.
“We’re trying to renew this interfaith movement on campus,” James said. “Easter could form a large part of that.”
There is one group, however, which feels its message is being shared accurately with students at Easter.
ChocSoc’s Facebook page promises to delivers “widespread chocolatey love”— a vision evident in its sugar-centric practices on campus.
President David Danguyen said Easter is a special time of year for them, highlighting its capacity to unite families and stimulate nostalgia.
It carries particular weight for ChocSoc as they “enjoy delicious Easter eggs and bunnies”, a core objective of the dairy-based society.
“Easter eggs bring back a lot of memories from my childhood so they’re definitely special to me!”, David said.
However, the president admitted he prefers chocolate bunnies to their spherical counterparts—presumably due to the greater cocoa:air ratio that rabbits contain— and described them as “definitely underrated”.
Alongside weekly events planned around enjoying chocolate and desserts, the society will celebrate Easter through their annual egg hunt, with details being finalised for location and time.
David also praised Usyd for observing the group’s customary Easter break, and believes they are doing more than enough to mark the occasion.
In fact, contrasting to faith-based groups, ChocSoc does feel adequately represented on campus.
“Who doesn’t know about the Chocolate Society?”
Each group expressed an enthusiasm to chat to students interested in their views of Easter and their core beliefs. All hoped for greater acknowledgement of their presence on campus in the process.
So while not all Australians celebrate Easter, and both conflicting and complementary perspectives remain on the historical person of Jesus, it may be time to expand our linear vision and encourage discourse on how diverse this occasion could be.
*Honi also reached out to Sydney University Catholic Society (CathSoc), Sydney University AhlulBayt Islamic Society (ABSOC) and Sydney University Muslim Students’ Association (SUMSA), who declined to contribute or did not respond.