Easter? Rally cars, pagan fertility symbols and a colonial death sentence

The way the weekend is celebrated in South Africa is very different from Kenya

In Summary

-The religious undercurrents are almost incidental to the festivities.

Crucifixion imagery
Crucifixion imagery

I always feel a little lost in South Africa, when the Easter season approaches. They mark the occasion very differently here compared to how the feast was celebrated where I grew up in Nairobi.

For instance, the moment the retailers are through promoting Valentine’s Day, they turn to their Easter wares. So suddenly, the confectionary aisle in the supermarket is full of hot cross buns and pagan fertility symbols (eggs and rabbits) covered in chocolate.

Seafood, in general, takes the place of the turkey, chicken and gammon that dominated Christmas menus, and a dish known as pickled fish is king, whether you are in a Christian or Muslim home.


When I was growing up in Kenya, Easter time meant the safari rally. In the run-up to the holiday, at school we’d be fashioning cars out of old tins and flip flops for our own rally around the school grounds. That is, unless you had parents who had more money than sense and could buy you a remote-controlled battery-operated rally car.

The names on everyone’s lips were not Lindt and Cadbury, but Joginder Singh, Shekhar Mehta, Bjorn Waldegard, Peter Shiyuka, Vic Preston and so on.

In those days, like today I suppose, the story of the son of a carpenter from the town of Nazareth in Palestine who, in the words of Prince, “Changed stone to bread with the touch of his hand/Made the blind see and the dumb understand,” was almost incidental to the festivities.

Here, I must point out that I am not particularly religious or spiritual. In fact, I grew up in a family that was in some ways unconventional for its time. For instance, while my parents had both had dalliances and even long-term commitments with organised religion, by the time I came along, they weren’t actually atheists but they certainly gave no overt signs of religious belief or practice.

So in an age where many of my friends performed family obligations, such as going to the mosque, temple, synagogue or church, I never had to. So there were no baptisms or confirmations or compulsory Sunday school lessons. My parents were quite happy for me to make up my own mind about religious matters and decide for myself if I wanted to belong to any particular faith.

Nevertheless, I was packed off to a school run by Catholic priests, but in my day, the priests were liberal enough to encourage other faiths and even other branches of Christianity.

So every Wednesday, for instance, as the Catholics went off to celebrate mass in the church that the school was built around, the Muslims, Hindus and Protestants had imams or pastors come over and provide spiritual guidance.


Despite my not being religious, the part of me that believes in knowing the reason behind a holiday, be it Easter, Idd ul Fitr or Vaisakhi, thinks that perhaps there should be a little more information out there about the reason for the season.

For instance, how a Jewish man’s being put to death by a colonial government got his followers to merge their faith with a healthy dash of paganism and gave the world a holiday called Easter.