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Canada Easter is a time of renewal and second chances after a brutal winter

The days heading into Easter are called Holy Week and, let's face it, religion has had better ones than this.

Terrorism in Kenya, obtuseness in Indiana, silly talk on the floor of the House of Commons – take your pick.

Over at the nearest Walmart, there are four double aisles of candy in the chain's "Hop to It! Everything Easter" display. There are chocolate bunnies, chicks, puppies, cats, frogs, mice (Minnie Mouse) and even a chocolate T-Rex. While holiday shoppers are unable to avoid some small trappings of religion during Christmas – stores playing carols, stars for the tree, manger figurines – the closest Easter gets to reverence in these aisles is a chocolate Stanley Cup.

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It's enough to bring a chuckle to Bishop Geoff Peddle, of the Anglican diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.

"Well," he says from his office in St. John's, "hockey is the civic religion of Canada, isn't it?"

The bishop does not worry about any twisting of Easter in his territory. His doctoral thesis, in fact, was done at Cardiff University on the impressive determination of Newfoundland and Labrador churchgoers.

"Religious life is still pretty resilient here," he says. "It's not what it used to be, of course, but people still want their children to be baptized, they want to be married in the church and they all want to be buried from the church. It's still very much part of the fabric of life."Done

The native of Bonavista says no one in any church should be "surprised" that Easter – a religious festival based on the belief that Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and then rose again from the dead – has so largely been hijacked by candy and stuffed-animal manufacturers. The core story of the Christian resurrection isn't exactly comfort food and cuddling.

"The secular world has found a way to make money from it," Bishop Peddle says. "But around here, anyway, there is still a sense of something right about marking these important festivals."

It is a festival that in the eastern part of this country has taken on added meaning after the harshest and deepest winter in memory. While there is an array of explanations for the origins of the word Easter, one has it that it comes from the Saxon ostermonud – the month in which the cold storms cease coming out of the east. The date of Easter is established by the first full moon of spring – so the sentiments of rebirth and renewal are hardly accidental.

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"Easter is always welcomed, always celebrated," Bishop Peddle says. The nice thing about the rhythm of church life is that you can see nature reawakening, as well. You start seeing crocuses break through. The days are longer. And even if there is another storm, it's the last one of the year, generally. You see life renewing itself. Easter and Passover are really good instances where the natural world and the religious world work together."

No matter one's religion – or even one's lack of any religious belief – all Canadians welcome this time of year. In the East, it has not just been towering snow drifts and howling Arctic storms but economic woes throughout the region, highlighted this very week by a New Brunswick budget that will close courthouses, jack up the price of fuel and eliminate nearly 250 teaching jobs.

You could see how people in Eastern Canada might choose to give up weather and news reports for Lent.

In the West, where winter has hardly been as severe, Easter is equally welcome, as it offers, in the words of country singer Reba McEntire, "a second chance" for everyone, a starting over, a new opportunity.

That should appeal to the likes of Alberta's Alison Redford and Danielle Smith, both having smacked into the wall of their political careers; to Olympic boss John Furlong, who walked out of court with all assault charges dropped; to Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, who met a cabinet revolt by running for his own leadership – and winning.

There are also any number of Canadian senators who would, rather appropriately, pray for a second chance at their expense claims as Easter 2015 arrives.

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But nowhere is the celebration more welcome than it is in places like Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, where the past season has felt like six winters in one. Blocked roads, driveways and front doors had an understandable effect on church attendance, even at Charlottetown's St. Peter's Cathedral.

"I live just across the street," says Rev. David Garrett, "so I could get there. People here will come out in the worst imaginable weather, but this winter attendance has not been so great." All that will change this weekend, he predicts. "It's spring," he says, "the vernal equinox – people will be glad just to get out of the house."

In Halifax, the university chaplain at King's College predicts record attendance at services.

"It's largely to do with young people," says Rev. Gary Thorne. "There's a hunger out there, a longing to find meaning in life. And it's true, generally speaking, of the major religions of the world that the religious cycle follows the pattern of nature. Bulbs that have been buried in the ground, seemingly dead, come to life again."

The chapel at King's College will hold its annual vigil Saturday night, beginning outside with a fire and involving services and feasting until the sun rises.

"The chapel won't be able to hold everyone who comes," predicts Rev. Thorne.

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"I can tell you that this Sunday, in this diocese," adds Bishop Peddle of St. John's, "the churches are going to be full with thousands and thousands of people. I can promise you that our big churches will be overflowing on Easter – regardless of what they might be selling at Walmart."

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