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Tranquil Traditions of Easter Eve


The day before Easter lacks some of the traditions that attend other holiday eves. There's none of the last-minute gift-buying that goes with Christmas Eve, for example, or the frantic efforts to have fun that mark New Year's Eve.

But for Ventura County residents, Easter Eve has its own, more tranquil traditions, and thousands were observing them Saturday.

For Patti and Jim Phoenix of Simi Valley, camping at McGrath State Beach in Oxnard is an Easter custom.

"This is our third Easter here," Patti Phoenix said as she and her husband sat at a picnic table playing pinochle with her son, Mike Davis, and his wife, Suzanne. Nearby, the Davises' 4-year-old son, Christopher, was piling sand into a plastic bucket.

"We come here quite frequently," Jim Phoenix said.

And they are not the only ones. All 173 camping spaces at the park were full for Easter weekend, a park ranger said. At Lake Casitas Recreation Area near Ojai, all 450 spaces were filled and an overflow area was opened for 150 tent campers.

Judging by the pasty white bodies lounging near campers and tents at McGrath, Saturday was the year's first sunbathing opportunity for many.

"I'm the Easter lily," joked fair-skinned Suzanne Davis. By nightfall, she predicted, "you'll be able to see me in the dark."

Jim Phoenix said the family will observe typical Easter traditions while camping. For example, they were planning an Easter egg hunt for Christopher this morning. And their provisions for Easter dinner included the customary ham.

"We barbecue our Easter pig here," he said.

But their two small hams were puny porkers compared to the 20-pounder that Jery Martin picked up at Jue's Market in Ventura.

"This is a $30 ham," Martin said as she wheeled the centerpiece of her Easter feast toward the checkout. She said she was expecting 25 family members for dinner today.

"We do this every year," Martin said. "I just put it in the oven, go to church and when we get back it will be ready."

At churches throughout the county, preparations were under way for today's religious holiday, considered the most important of the year for Christians.

At San Buenaventura Mission, Msgr. Patrick J. O'Brien was preparing to baptize and give communion to 22 new church members Saturday night, a traditional rite of the Easter vigil.

"It's a very busy day," O'Brien said as he went to check on flower arrangements for the altar. At least his Easter sermon was already prepared, he said.

Throughout the day, people stopped at the mission to pray or to admire the 200-year-old church. At the adjacent gift shop, cashier Jacqueline Valadez said crucifixes, rosaries, medals and Easter cards were selling briskly.

Norma Dailey and John Gamlyn drove over from Simi Valley to visit the mission and have lunch in downtown Ventura.

"We decided to make a day of it," Dailey said as they strolled through the mission's garden. Others had the same idea, judging by the mission's guest register, which included the names of visitors from Chula Vista, Santa Monica, Escondido and Lancaster as well as British Columbia and Germany.

A troop of Girl Scouts from Newbury Park spent Saturday afternoon entertaining children at Zoe Christian Center, a shelter for the needy in Oxnard.

"We want to make the children happy for Easter," said 9-year-old Katie Kellogg.

Troop leader Donna Richmond said the troop's 13 girls prepared 35 Easter baskets for children at the center. The baskets contained candy, baseballs, stuffed animals, crayons, coloring books and cosmetics, most of which were donated by various merchants.

Cecille Brown, a center resident who helps in the kitchen, spent Saturday morning boiling 600 eggs, which the center's children helped decorate. The eggs, along with ham, turkey, potatoes and desserts, will be served today at a meal for needy people at the center. The dinner gathering is expected to draw more than 500 people.

As the Scouts lugged in the brightly wrapped baskets, Brown said the children were looking forward to observing the Easter candy tradition.

"Oh, definitely," she said. "The children have been waiting for this all day."

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