Secular Easter

Easter may be the holy of holies in the Christian calendar, but for most of us it is little more than a longish secular holiday, moderately ruined in many years (including 2010) by indifferent weather. International Christendom still cannot agree on a fixed date for Easter (as provided for in Britain by the as yet unimplemented Easter Act 1928, which would move the festival towards mid-April, when the weather might hopefully be better).

The secular undercurrent of Easter is clearly brought out in a survey conducted by 72Point for B&Q (the UK’s largest home improvement and garden centre retailer) in March, among a sample of 3,000 adults. The top five anticipated Easter activities are: relaxing (36%), visiting family (34%), gardening (33%), starting DIY jobs (24%) and day trips to the beach or park (24%). Seven in ten believe that the long bank holiday weekend is the best time to freshen up the home and garden, with the average person expecting to spend 15 hours this Easter doing just that. The most popular Easter jobs for women are cleaning (72%) and tidying (70%), for men fitting shelves (65%) and building furniture (55%).

This home and garden improvement bug is likely to be partially curbed in England and Wales by the provisions of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. Although this liberalized shop opening hours on ordinary Sundays, large shops (those with more than 3,000 square feet of selling space) are prohibited from serving retail customers on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. This Easter the law is being challenged by the 73 stores in the Garden Centre Group, which will be open on Easter Sunday for browsing and advice, but not for purchasing items. When public opinion was last tested on the subject, in March 2008, by GfK NOP for the Keep Sunday Special campaign, 44% of Britons had not noticed or were unaware that large shops were closed on Easter Sunday, and 79% of the remaining 56% were not bothered by the closure.

A second secular institution of Easter is the holiday or outing. According to the Automobile Association’s membership panel, run by Populus, 56% of 17,500 UK motorists interviewed online in March anticipated that they would take to the roads this Easter. Of these 44% were planning day trips and 31% a weekend break in the UK. Of those not driving, 39% expected to go on (or return from) an overseas holiday. A similar survey, by One Poll for the RAC in March among 2,000 respondents, found that 76% of drivers planned to be on the roads over Easter, equating to more than 20 million of the country’s 31 million registered cars. 

A third Easter tradition is indulgence, epitomized by the consumption of chocolate Easter eggs. A new survey from mystery shopping company Retail Active, conducted by email among a sample of 2,000, has revealed that even 70% of dieters will suspend their regime and consume chocolate over Easter. Children aged 10-14 (the peak age for Easter egg consumption) will eat an average of 13 eggs each, containing 2.6kg of chocolate, over the Easter holiday, taking in 12,900 calories and 650 grams of fat. 77% of adults allow their children to tuck into Easter eggs first thing on Easter morning, before having breakfast or even a drink, and 70% of parents have adopted the American tradition of ‘hunt the Easter egg’. The lowest consumption rate, one egg each, was reported by those aged 40-59 and 75 and over.

Meanwhile, does religion get a look-in? Comparatively little research has been conducted into popular attitudes to and the observance of Easter as a religious festival in Britain. The principal exception to this is Clive Field, ‘It’s all chicks and going out: the observance of Easter in post-war Britain’, Theology, Vol. 101, No. 800, March/April 1998, pp. 82-90, which is now somewhat dated. The most important recent poll on the subject was conducted by ComRes for Theos in February 2008, among a sample of 1,100 adults interviewed by telephone. The data tabulations for this survey will be found at:

All that we know for 2010 so far is that, in a survey of 430 of its customers by in March, a mere 4% said that the religious celebration is the most important aspect of Easter for them. This compares with 53% who replied that they were most looking forward to spending some quality time with their family, and 30% who were relishing the break from work.

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