Myriads of memories and experiences come from the years I lived in Spain but it is Semana Santa in Malaga which has left one of the most lasting impressions.
It seemed so intensely, addictively sensual - the strange sight ofhundreds of men swaying in unison under a vast oak platform which bore the stricken form of a dying Jesus Christ or the distraught Virgin Mary, a single diamond teardrop on her pale face; the city streets reeking of molten wax and the night air filled with the heady scent of lilies and thick clouds of incense; the funereal sound of slow stepping brass bands or sudden silence, the shouts of devotion and the wailing saetas.
Easter in England is an entirely different affair. God and the church barely seem to feature. Instead it is characterised largely by chocolate eggs. The supermarket shelves are groaning with the products of a £200 million annual industry and besides the basic children’s versions there are now a whole raft of more sophisticated ‘artisan’ offerings - the mini eggs within Heston Blumenthal’s life-like egg, nestle on edible soil, there’s a gin and tonic flavoured egg and an avocado shaped egg, a Marmite chocolate egg - could anything be more British? - and a whopping 4.5 kilo creation which contains 22,500 calories and costs 250 quid.
It’s not just eggs though. Easter crackers, bunny bunting, rabbit ear headbands, lurid plastic baskets for collecting the prizes from an egg hunt and even Easter paper chains adorned with chicks are all on sale. “Easter,” screech the headlines, “is the new Christmas!”
And while Spanish families take to the beaches of the Costa del Sol in large cheerful groups for the first long holiday of the year and the chiringuitos roll up their shutters for the beginning of the season we have fun runs and craft fairs to attend.
In my part of East Anglia this weekend’s listed events include a Tudor themed ‘Eastertide’ at the local manor house which features 16th century style hot cross buns and a jousting tournament with the ‘Knights of Middle England’ at the nearest medieval castle. It all seems so innocent, so quaint compared with the sacred and earthly delights of Semana Santa.
For me, though, Easter here means spring and after many warm winters in southern Spain I had forgotten the real sense of joy which heralds the end of months of gloomy days and long cold nights. At this time of year Britain is at its most picturesque, a tourist board’s dream come true. Yes, there really are woolly lambs bouncing in green meadows and yes there are pale yellow primroses and cowslips in the ditches and yes, the air is soft and hawthorn blossom drifts lazily in the breeze and every tree is heavy with sticky buds ready to unfurl into leaves and new life.
“Oh to be in England, now that April’s there,” wrote Robert Browning whilst homesick in Italy in 1845. Last weekend when the temperatures hit 25ºC and all of Britain rushed towards the sunshine like lemmings over a cliff, fiercely ignited barbecues and turned pink with pleasure at the sudden heatwave it seemed hard to argue with that.
Polly Rodger Brown returned from Spain to the UK last year. In this column she reflects on different aspects of life in both countries.