A wonderful article from 2008 by James Martin is up over at Slate. Martin wrestles with why Easter resists commercialization while Christmas has completely succumbed. Comparing the two Martin observes:
Unlike Christmas, whose deeper spiritual meaning has been all but buried under an annual avalanche of commercialism, Easter has retained a stubborn hold on its identity as a religious holiday. This is all the more surprising when you consider what an opportune time it would be for marketers to convince us to buy more stuff.Why has Easter, for the most part, resisted commercialization? Martin's argument is twofold. First, the images of Christmas--Mary, Joesph, angels, farm animals--can be easily accommodated by modern marketing. The images surrounding Easter--the bloody torture and death of Jesus--are less amenable to Hallmarkification:
Despite the awesome theological implications (Christians believe that the infant lying in the manger is the son of God), the Christmas story is easily reduced to pablum. How pleasant it is in mid-December to open a Christmas card with a pretty picture of Mary and Joseph gazing beatifically at their son, with the shepherds and the angels beaming in delight. The Christmas story, with its friendly resonances of marriage, family, babies, animals, angels, and—thanks to the wise men—gifts, is eminently marketable to popular culture. It's a Thomas Kinkade painting come to life.Martin's second argument is that secular people have some wiggle room in accommodating the story behind Christmas into their worldview. Even atheists recognize the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, Jesus has a birth story. The metaphysics behind that birth might be hotly contested, but most people agree on the historical nature of the event.
On the other hand, a card bearing the image of a near-naked man being stripped, beaten, tortured, and nailed through his hands and feet onto a wooden crucifix is a markedly less pleasant piece of mail.
Easter, however, is a different story altogether. As Martin summarizes:
Unlike Christmas, [Easter] resists a noncommittal response. Even agnostics and atheists who don't accept Christ's divinity can accept the general outlines of the Christmas story with little danger to their worldview. But Easter demands a response. It's hard for a non-Christian believer to say, "Yes, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead." That's not something you can believe without some serious ramifications: If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, this has profound implications for your spiritual and religious life—really, for your whole life. If you believe the story, then you believe that Jesus is God, or at least God's son. What he says about the world and the way we live in that world then has a real claim on you.
Easter is an event that demands a "yes" or a "no." There is no "whatever."