The greatest festival of the Christian church
commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Easter is a time of springtime festivals. In
Christian countries Easter is celebrated as the religious holiday commemorating
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The resurrection of Jesus took place during the
Passover. Christians of the Eastern church initially celebrated both holidays
The Traditions of Easter
As with almost all holidays that have their roots
in Christianity, Easter has been secularized and commercialized.
Since its conception as a holy celebration in the
second century, Easter has had its non-religious side. In fact, Easter was
The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of
spring with an uproarious festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and
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.
The Cross is the symbol of the Crucifixion, as
opposed to the Resurrection. However, at the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325,
The Easter Bunny
The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The
symbol originated with the pagan festival of Eastre.
"Here comes Petter Cottontail
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
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.
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.
Old Polish legends blended folklore and Christian
beliefs and firmly attached the egg to the Easter celebration.
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.
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