Easter
Information, Origins, Traditions & More

Easter Information

Introduction

The greatest festival of the Christian church commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
It is a movable feast; that is, it is not always held on the same date. In AD 325 the church 
council of Nicaea decided that it should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full 
moon on or after the vernal equinox of March 21. 
Easter can come as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.


Easter

Easter is a time of springtime festivals. In Christian countries Easter is celebrated as the religious holiday commemorating 
the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. But the celebrations of Easter have many customs and legends that are 
pagan in origin and have nothing to do with Christianity

Scholars, accepting the derivation proposed by the 8th-century English scholar St. Bede, believe the name Easter is thought to come from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre," both Goddesses of mythology signifying spring and fertility whose festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox

Traditions associated with the festival survive in the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored easter eggs, originally 
painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts

The Christian celebration of Easter embodies a number of converging traditions with emphasis on the relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach, from which is derived Pasch, another name used by Europeans for Easter. 
Passover is an important feast in the Jewish calendar, celebrated for 8 days and commemorating the flight and freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

The early Christians, many of whom were of Jewish origin, were brought up in the Hebrew tradition and regarded Easter as a new feature of the Passover festival, a commemoration of the advent of the Messiah as foretold by the prophets. 

Easter is observed by the churches of the West on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or following the s
pring equinox (March 2I). So Easter became a "movable" feast which can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25

Christian churches in the East which were closer to the birthplace of the new religion and in which old traditions were strong, observe Easter according to the date of the Passover festival.

Easter is at the end of the Lenten season, which covers a forty-six-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. The Lenten season itself comprises forty days, as the six Sundays in Lent are not actually a part of Lent. Sundays are considered a commemoration of Easter Sunday and have always been excluded from the Lenten fast. The Lenten season is a period of penitence in preparation for the highest festival of the church year, Easter

Holy Week, the last week of Lent, begins its with the observance of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday takes its name from Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the crowds laid palms at his feet. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, which was held the evening before the Crucifixion. Friday in Holy Week is the anniversary of the Crucifixion, the day that Christ was crucified and died on the cross

Holy week and the Lenten season end with Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Lent

Associated with the observance of Easter is the 40-day penitential season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending at midnight on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. In many churches Easter is preceded by a season of prayer, abstinence, and fasting. This is observed in memory of the 40 days' fast of Christ in the desert. In Eastern Orthodox churches. Lent is 50 days. In Western Christendom Lent is observed for six weeks and four days.

Lent may be preceded by a carnival season. The origin of the word carnival is probably from the Latin carne vale, meaning flesh (meat), farewell. Elaborate pageants often close this season on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent. This day is also called by its French name, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, gets its name from the practice, mainly in the Roman Catholic church, of putting ashes on the foreheads of the faithful to remind them that people are but dust.

Other Important Days

Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, celebrates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Holy Week begins on this day. 
Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, is in memory of the Last Supper of Christ with his disciples. 
Good Friday
commemorates the crucifixion.

Origin of the Name Easter

The name Easter comes from Eostre, an ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess, originally of the dawn. In pagan times an annual spring festival was held in her honor. Some Easter customs have come from this and other pre-Christian spring festivals. 
Others come from the Passover feast of the Jews, observed in memory of their deliverance from Egypt. 
The word paschal comes from a Latin word that means belonging to Passover or to Easter. 
Formerly, Easter and the Passover were closely associated.

The resurrection of Jesus took place during the Passover. Christians of the Eastern church initially celebrated both holidays 
together. But the Passover can fall on any day of the week, and Christians of the Western church preferred to celebrate Easter on Sunday the day of the resurrection.

The Traditions of Easter

As with almost all holidays that have their roots in Christianity, Easter has been secularized and commercialized. 
That aspect of Easter and its symbols, however, is not necessarily a modern fabrication.

Since its conception as a holy celebration in the second century, Easter has had its non-religious side. In fact, Easter was
originally a pagan festival.

The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and
of springtime, Eastre. When the second-century Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the north with their pagan
celebrations, they attempted to convert them to Christianity. They did so, however, in a clandestine manner.

It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to celebrate their holy days with observances that did not coincide with celebrations that already existed. To save lives, the missionaries cleverly decided to spread their religious message slowly throughout the populations by allowing them to continue to celebrate pagan feasts, but to do so in a Christian manner.

As it happened, the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. It made sense, therefore, to alter the festival itself, to make it a Christian celebration as converts were slowly won over. The early name, Eastre, was eventually changed to its modern spelling, Easter.

Symbols Associated with Easter

Many Easter customs come from the Old World. The white lily, the symbol of the resurrection, is the special Easter flower. 
Rabbits and colored eggs have come from pagan antiquity as symbols of new life. The Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored Easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts. Easter Monday egg rolling, a custom of European origin, has become a tradition on the lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. During the Octave of Easter in early Christian times, the newly baptized wore white garments, white being the liturgical color of Easter and signifying light, purity, and joy.

The Cross

The Cross is the symbol of the Crucifixion, as opposed to the Resurrection. However, at the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325, 
Constantine decreed that the Cross was the official symbol of Christianity. 
The Cross is not only a symbol of Easter, but it is more widely used, especially by the Catholic Church, as a year-round symbol of faith.

The Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. 
The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.

"Here comes Petter Cottontail
 hoppin' down the bunny trail
 Hippity hoppity
                          Easter's on its way!"

The Easter bunny has its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore. The Hare and the Rabbit were the most fertile animals known and they served as symbols of the new life during the Spring season.

The bunny as an Easter symbol seems to have it's origins in Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 1500s. The first edible Easter bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800s and were made of pastry and sugar.

The Easter bunny was introduced to North American folklore by the German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch
country during the 1700s. The arrival of the "Oschter Haws" was considered "childhood's greatest pleasure" next to a visit from Christ-Kindel on Christmas Eve. 
The children believed that if they were good the "Oschter Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs.

The children would build their nest in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys would use their caps and girls their bonnets to make the nests . The use of elaborate Easter baskets would come later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread through out the country.

The Easter Egg

The egg is nature's perfect package. It has, during the span of history, represented mystery, magic, medicine, food and omen. It is the universal symbol of Easter celebrations throughout the world and has been dyed, painted, adorned and embellished in the celebration of its special symbolism.

Before the egg became closely entwined with the Christian Easter, it was honored during many rite-of-Spring festivals. 
The Romans, Gauls, Chinese, Egyptians and Persians all cherished the egg as a symbol of the universe. 
From ancient times eggs were dyed, exchanged and shown reverence.

In Pagan times the egg represented the rebirth of the earth. The long, hard winter was over; the earth burst forth and was reborn just as the egg miraculously burst forth with life. The egg, therefore, was believed to have special powers. 
It was buried under the foundations of buildings to ward off evil. Pregnant young Roman women carried an egg on their persons to foretell the sex of their unborn children and French brides stepped upon an egg before crossing the threshold of their new homes.

With the advent of Christianity the symbolism of the egg changed to represent, not nature's rebirth, but the rebirth of all humankind. Christians embraced the egg symbol and likened it to the tomb from which Christ rose.

Old Polish legends blended folklore and Christian beliefs and firmly attached the egg to the Easter celebration. 
One legend concerns the Virgin Mary. It tells of the time Mary gave eggs to the soldiers at the cross. She entreated them to be less cruel and she wept. The tears of Mary fell upon the eggs, spotting them with dots of brilliant color.

Another Polish legend tells of when Mary Magdalene went to the sepulchre to anoint the body of Jesus. She had with her a basket of eggs to serve as a meal. When she arrived at the sepulchre and uncovered the eggs, the pure white shells had miraculously taken on a rainbow of colors.

Decorating and coloring eggs for Easter was the custom in England during the middle ages. The household accounts of Edward I, for the year 1290, recorded an expenditure of eighteen pence for four hundred and fifty eggs to be gold-leafed and colored for Easter gifts.

The most famous decorated Easter eggs were those made by the well-known goldsmith, Peter Carl Faberge. 
In 1883 the Russian Czar, Alexander, commissioned Faberge to make a special Easter gift for his wife, the Empress Marie.

The first Faberge egg was an egg within an egg. It had an outside shell of platinum and enameled white which opened to reveal a smaller gold egg. The smaller egg, in turn, opened to display a golden chicken and a jeweled replica of the Imperial crown.

This special Faberge egg so delighted the Czarina that the Czar promptly ordered the Faberge firm to design further eggs to be delivered every Easter. In later years Nicholas II, Alexander's son, continued the custom. Fifty-seven eggs were made in all.

Ornamental egg designers believe in the symbolism of the egg and celebrate the egg by decorating it with superb artistry. 
Some use flowers and leaves from greeting cards, tiny cherubs, jewels and elegant fabrics, braids and trims, to adorn the eggs. 
They are separated, delicately hinged and glued with epoxy and transparent cement, then when completed, they are covered with a glossy resin finish. 
Although the omens and the mystery of the egg have disappeared today, the symbolism remains, and artists continue in the old world tradition of adorning eggs.





 

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