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Liekuut: Christ or an Easter egg - nothing is as fluid as traditions

24 March 2024

In ‘Liekuut’, which is the Groningen dialect for straight ahead or straightforward, we regularly share the perspective of one of our academics on a topical issue. In this way, we show how UG researchers are contributing to the societal debate. .

Knowledge about the meaning of our Christian holidays has dwindled considerably. If you ask people in any shopping street what we celebrate at Easter, you will probably hear a story about the Easter bunny. Has the time come to cancel Easter, Good Friday, and Pentecost? Mathilde van Dijk, assistant professor of History of Christianity, does not think so. According to her, we would do well to brush up on our knowledge of these traditions, but at the same time, we should also accept that traditions change, whether we want them to or not

Who is that man hanging on the cross?

‘It isn’t strange that this knowledge is disappearing. Children don’t hear about it at home as much anymore, because their parents often don’t go to church anymore, and in schools it receives little attention as well, unless the children attend a school that is committed to its Christian identity. Those adhering to a religion other than Christianity or who are anti-religious also won’t pass on that knowledge. Although perfectly explicable, I find it a real shame. After all, Christianity is still part of our Dutch and European culture. That doesn’t mean that everyone should go to church, but I do think it’s important that when people visit a church on their holidays, they also understand who that person on the cross is. We would do well to make sure that everyone has a basic knowledge of religion. That knowledge should not be limited to Christianity, by the way. Everyone should have a broad basic knowledge of religion, so that we also know why Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr (Suikerfeest in Dutch) are important, even if we don’t participate in them ourselves.’

Public holidays could be more diverse

‘A public holiday on which everyone enjoys a day off gives a certain feeling of unity. In addition, such a holiday indicates that this is something we find important, this has a particular place within our society. This is not restricted to religious holidays but also applies to King’s Day and Liberation Day. In my opinion, Easter, Good Friday, and Pentecost still occupy an important place in Dutch tradition. To me, the fact that not everyone is familiar with the background is no reason to cancel them. On the contrary, that makes it even more important to preserve that tradition. However, it may well be time to take a broader view. Keti Koti and Eid al-Fitr could easily be included, because these celebrations have great societal significance and deserve to have the same symbolic value as Easter and King’s Day.

Nothing is as fluid as traditions

‘I think it’s important to preserve traditions—they are part of history, intangible heritage. It’s a shame if that knowledge disappears. But history also teaches us that passing on knowledge means that knowledge changes. All of our religious holidays have been subject to mutual influence; pagan customs combined with ‘new’ church celebrations. The eggs at Easter are an example of such a pagan relic, and Germanic and even Persian influences can also be found in our Christmas celebrations. Especially within populist circles, heritage is seen as something that never changes. But that simply isn’t true. In this respect, Black Pete is a particularly strong example. It’s not at all a very longstanding tradition, and on top of that, it has changed tremendously: my parents were afraid of Pete; in more recent times he has become more of a clown. and now his “soot-blackened” face is no longer acceptable. Our society is changing and, therefore, our traditions are changing. Yes, it is important to know where our traditions come from, how they have developed, and that they are subject to change, again and again.’

An overview of all the Liekuut opinion pieces

Last modified:25 March 2024 10.37 a.m.
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