Easter is officially over. For five days, religious chants filled the supermarkets while shoppers – in priestly frocks, nuns’ habits and hijabs – stacked their trolleys high for a marathon long weekend. Fireworks went off at churches in irregular spurts from early morning through to the wee hours. I wondered if they were lit in return for donations, just like candles but more showy. The accountant sent a text message saying Qam el Messih haqan (in truth Christ has risen) and crowds streamed to and from mass constantly, carrying with them whiffs of incense.
But now the Pepsi stalls which sprang up outside cemeteries are gone and the white shrouds on the large crosses pinned to lampposts (which replaced the black shrouds of Good Friday) are mostly missing or at any rate not very white any more. The chickens waving wands still dance across the glass of shop windows, but that might take some time to wear off; some Christmas trees were still hanging grimly on at street corners until the week before Easter, as if the local residents couldn’t bear to go more than a few days without some garish decoration. The supply of fluorescent dyed chicks has ebbed to its usual level. The church music which filled the neighbourhood no longer drowns out the call to prayer and we are back to that laid-back tit-for-tat of bells and adhan.
It struck me once again how, with every festival, the surge of devotion is equalled only by a simultaneous surge of consumerism. In the west, consumerism has all but superseded the religious nature of holidays. Both in the west and here in Lebanon, religion is a matter of tradition as much as belief – but here tradition rules supreme. It’s a tribal matter.
Other cultures are as devout but less consumerist. “3 seconds to decide, 3 years to pay,” shouts a Beirut billboard, sounding more ill-advised than tantalising. In fact I can’t help but think of that nagging adage, ‘A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.’
Meanwhile in France, La Banque Postale, to differentiate itself from that wicked world of blasé high-flying traders and reckless asset managers, has launched its new offer of consumer credit with the sanctimonious slogan “Un crédit pour les moments importants, pas pour les envies du moment” (a loan for important moments, not for momentary whims).
I’m not sure which sounds worse.