What is Easter?
Easter is considered by many Christian churches the most important and one of the oldest holidays of the Church year after the weekly Sabbath which is held on Sundays. It is a time for redemption or deliverance from sin.
Why is Easter celebrated?
It is celebrated to commemorate the Christian belief in the death by crucifixion of Prophet Jesus and his resurrection three days later.
When is Easter celebrated?
The date for Easter can fall between March 25 and April 25. There are two main churches who celebrate Easter: the Eastern Orthodox and the Western churches. Generally, the Western Church comprises the Protestants, Catholics, and Anglicans. The Eastern Church, on the other hand, is made up of: the Orthodox churches, the Oriental churches, and the Eastern-rite churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Eastern Orthodox church may celebrate Easter at the same time as the Western church, or one, four or five weeks later due to a slightly different method of calculation.
Some of the important days pertaining to Easter are the following:
1. Lent: a 40-day period of fasting and penitence which is a preparation for Easter. In 2003, Lent began on March 5 and will end on April 19.
2. Ash Wednesday: the official start of Lent. Christians may make signs on their foreheads with ashes. This is meant to humble their hearts and remind themselves of their own mortality and redemption. Ashes are a symbol of penance aimed at developing a spirit of humility and sacrifice.
3. Holy Week- the last week of Lent.
4. Palm Sunday-This is the beginning of the Holy Week. It takes its name from the Christian belief in Prophet Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the crowds laid palms at his feet.
5. Holy Thursday-this commemorates the Last Supper that was held the evening before the crucifixion of Jesus, according to Christian belief.
6. Friday in the Holy Week-commemorates the anniversary of the day that Christians say Jesus was crucified and died on the cross.
7. Easter Sunday-Holy week and Lent end with Easter Sunday.
Some customs and practices surrounding Easter
1. Fasting before Easter
Prior to the celebration of Easter, Christians may fast for the 40-day period called Lent. Lent is a time to prepare for Easter by making penitence. There are differences amongst Christians pertaining to this fasting and when it begins.
In Western churches, Lent begins on a day called Ash Wednesday. This is six-and-a-half weeks before Easter. Christians fast except on Sundays. While initially there were strict laws about fasting, the Roman Catholics later made these unnecessary during World War Two. Today, only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are kept as days of fasting during Lent. However, there is still emphasis on penitence during this period.
In Eastern churches, on the other hand, Lent starts on the Monday of the seventh week before Easter and ends of the Friday nine days before the holiday. In Eastern churches, even today, those who are fasting cannot consume wine, oil and dairy products. Fasting also takes place on Sunday, unlike in the Western church. However the fasting on the weekends is more relaxed.
2. Easter eggs
In some churches, eggs are forbidden to be eaten during the fasting of Lent. During Easter, a time of joy and celebration, not only are they eaten, but they are colored and decorated.
Eggs are symbolic of new life and resurrection, which are the themes of Easter.
Cultures where Christianity is practiced use eggs in different ways during Easter celebrations. For instance, in Greece eggs painted crimson red are exchanged with the belief that this practice honors the blood of Jesus. In Germany eggs are hollowed out, dyed and hung from shrubs and trees during Easter Week. Armenians decorate hollow eggs with pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other religious designs.
The Easter eggs also play a role in games. In North America, this can be seen on Easter morning with children going on Easter egg hunts in parks or backyards. They are looking for the eggs the "Easter Bunny" has hidden while they were asleep. Sometimes prizes of candy are awaiting the child finding the most eggs
3. The Easter rabbit
In ancient Egypt, the hare was a symbol of fertility. While in Europe, the symbol of the hare has been adopted in relation to the celebration of Easter, it is different in North America. Here, we find the Easter rabbit, which is also a symbol of fertility. It is believed it the Easter Rabbit lays the eggs, for which reason they are hidden in a nest or in the garden. .
Sources of information include Encyclopedia Britannica, the Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.holidays.net/easter/index.htm
Photo Attribution: "Easter eggs - straw decoration" by Jan Kameníček - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Easter_eggs_-_straw_decoration.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Easter_eggs_-_straw_decoration.jpg