Jose Cervantes and his clan left nothing to chance for their Easter picnic this year. The family showed up just after 10 a.m. Sunday at their favorite site, Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey, lugging sacks of charcoal, a barbecue grill, tubs of food and drink and two of Cervantes' fidgety grandchildren.
The park was nearly deserted when they arrived, but the few picnic tables that were available had already been claimed by other families, a clear sign that by day's end the place would be clogged with humanity. The Cervantes family took their loss in stride, laying down blankets and provisions in a wide grassy spot near the water's edge.
For six straight years, the Cervantes family has spent its Easter Sundays at the park by the ocean. For them, like many other Los Angeles families, Easter Sunday was a time to bask in the sun, show off rarely worn dresses and suits and eat all day long.
As always, the day started off with prayers, at hundreds of local churches and at the customary Hollywood Bowl sunrise service, where nearly 15,000 worshipers gathered Sunday to listen to Archbishop Roger Mahony read excerpts of Pope John Paul II's Easter message.
What followed were the personal traditions and habits that the city's families follow year after year in order to celebrate Easter Sunday--as elaborate as the preparations for bountiful ethnic luncheons and picnics and as simple as the act of snapping a photograph.
"If anyone wants to find us, this is where we are every Easter," said Cervantes, 45, a construction worker whose ever-expanding family now includes seven grandsons and two granddaughters. "We play ball, have an Easter hunt. We don't leave until it gets dark."
It was much the same at parks all over the city on Sunday. In Elysian Park, near Dodger Stadium, the air was thick with smoke and the aroma of carne asada as Roman Catholic families ended their three-day diet of chicken and fish with a feast of barbecue.
"We go to church first and give thanks, then we celebrate," said Tony Ruiz, 26, who joined his wife, Linda, and 20 other families who grilled meat at the park. "Ever since I was born, it's always been that way."
At Hollenbeck Park in East Los Angeles, families treated their children to games, rides and steaming hot tamales at a carnival that returns every year on Easter Sunday. "If you have kids and it's Easter, you have to take them out," said Tomas Montero, who sat in the shade with his wife and 6-year-old daughter. "Like I'm doing for my daughter, I want her to do the same thing with her kids. Like we had in Mexico, I want it to be a tradition here."
For much the same reason, Lubow Dolyniuk gathers her family at her home in Northridge every Easter Sunday for a daylong affair that starts with a traditional Ukrainian brunch and ends only after a full dinner. More than two dozen relatives, ranging from local family to cousins from Edmonton, Canada, showed up at the Dolyniuk home to sample Ukranian "special breads," cheese paska, ham and sausages, egg and beet relishes and other traditional Easter fare.
As the day progressed, the elders of the family told tales about life in the Ukraine and the rest of the family joined them in singing folk songs. "This is the way I grew up, and if I don't keep the traditions, who will?" she asked. "This is a way of keeping what we know alive."
At times, Easter Sunday traditions have commercial side effects. Jacqueline Hickman and Rebecca Goodloe attend the annual sunrise service at the Hollywood Bowl every Easter. But afterward, instead of going on to church with their families, they set up shop in the heart of a 28-block strip of Adams Boulevard and wait for the well-dressed worshipers who flock to the streets when church services let out.
"We'll sell 1,000 bouquets today," said Hickman as she sold basket after basket of yellow and white daisies from beneath a beach umbrella at the corner of Adams and Crenshaw boulevards. "We expect to be out of flowers by 3 o'clock."
Jessie Mae Beavers, a candidate in last Tuesday's race for the 10th Council District seat, was one of her customers. She and her husband rose early to jog three miles in preparation for the family's afternoon feast. For her family, Easter would not be complete without her lemon pies, ham, potato salad and the first strawberry shortcake of the season.
Down the street, Shaconda Lee, 9, and her little brother, Willie Jr., were having their pictures taken in front of their father and mother's soul food restaurant, Bessie's Place. Cameras were in evidence all over the city Sunday. In the last week, families readied for the day by flocking to local camera outlets and drugstores to load up on film. "It's always real hectic the last few days before Easter," said Paul Ryal, general manager of a camera shop on Vermont Avenue. "We usually get a big rush right after the holiday, too. All those people want those pictures developed fast."