When is Easter (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Christian populations
Observed on First Sunday after Lent
Observed by Christians
For Christians, Easter is considered the most important Christian festival, and its numerous celebrations and observances form the core of the liturgical year, which begins around the time of the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere) and stretches out into summer in the Northern Hemisphere (winter in the Southern Hemisphere).
This occasion celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus three days after his Crucifixion. Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God, and died on the Cross to redeem humanity from sin. Apart from its religious aspect, the Resurrection symbolizes the resurgence of hope and a fresh lease on life for all human beings. The actual dates for Easter and its associated religious observances are different for the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches of the West, which follow the Gregorian calendar, and the several churches affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox Church, which still follows the Julian calendar.
Because of its importance in the early church, as well as the appropriation of numerous dates and symbols from early European pagan festivals, what can be called the Easter season begins with Carnival in Spanish-speaking countries and Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) in French-speaking countries.
Origins and History
The English name for this celebration, Easter, was almost certainly taken from the name of the pagan deity Eostre. According to the Venerable Bede (672–735), a renowned Christian scholar, Easter was named after Eostre (or Eastre), the Mother Goddess of the Saxon tribes of Northern Europe; she was also the goddess of fertility. The Germans knew her as Ostara. After the harsh dreary winters of Northern Europe, she brought the warmth of spring, fertility, and abundance. The ancient deities in all civilizations had patron animals, and the rabbit, an obvious symbol of fertility, is the companion animal of Eostre. The deity was believed to preside over conception and birth in animals and human beings and pollination, flowering, and the ripening of fruit in the plant kingdom.
The Teutonic dawn goddess of fertility was also known by various names, such as Ostare, Ostern, Austron, and Ausos. According to another version, the name given by the Frankish church to Jesus’ Resurrection festival included the Latin word alba, which means “white,” referring to the white robes worn during the ceremonies. Alba also means “sunrise.” When the name of the festival was translated into German, an error crept into the meaning of the word and it became ostern in German. Ostern is another possible source of the word “Easter.” Although the name of this holiday in English and German is Easter, in most of the languages spoken in Christian societies the concept of the holiday is based on the Hebrew Pesach (Passover), a Jewish holiday with which the Christian observance is closely associated. Easter takes many of its symbols and activities from Passover as well as the season in which it is celebrated.
The date of the Christian celebration of Easter is linked to the ancient Jewish celebration of Pesach or Passover. The Jewish people followed the Persian (Babylonian) calendar and their new year commenced with the spring equinox. Most of the pagan societies settled in the Mediterranean region also had a major religious celebration at or following shortly after the spring equinox. A common point of these spring religious festivals was a god whose own death and rebirth symbolized the death and regeneration of life during this time of the year. There are stories of a few gods in pagan religions who were believed to have died only to be reborn.
There are two popular explanations about the origin of the English word, “Sunday,” appended to the name Easter. According to one version, “Sunday” is derived from the name of the Scandinavian Sun goddess Sunna. The origin of the word can also be traced to Sol, the Roman god of the Sun. The Latin phrase, dies solis means “day of the Sun.” Cybele, the Phrygian fertility goddess, had a consort named Attis. (Phrygia was located within the triangle formed by the modern cities of Afyon, Eskisehir, and Ankara, the capital of modern Turkey.) Attis was believed to have been born of a virgin, and several religious historians believe that the Christian legends of death and resurrection were first associated with him. The ancient Christians, on the other hand, claimed that Satan had created counterfeit deities to preempt the debut of Jesus and to confuse humanity. Modern-day Christians, those who know of it, regard the Attis legend as merely a pagan myth.
They believe the account of Jesus’ death and Resurrection and do not accept the idea that it might be related to the earlier tradition.
The agonizing and gory Crucifixion of Jesus took place on what is now called Good Friday. In the early morning of the third day after his Crucifixion, which happened to be Sunday, some women disciples of Jesus went to the cave (tomb) where his body had been laid. They were astonished to find that the heavy rock that had covered the mouth of the tomb had been moved, and the body had vanished.
They learned that Jesus had been resurrected, or raised from his tomb. Grief turned into celebration following this amazing occurrence.
Easter is not however, a festival confined to a single day. It is spread over a considerable length of time, starting with Lent, a period of spiritual preparation for Easter that traditionally involves fasting, penance, and prayer. In some countries, those in which Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, in particular, Easter celebrations begin with Carnival called Mardi Gras in French-speaking countries, generally a two-week festival of carousing, eating, and drinking, characterized by noisy masked processions through the streets of cities and towns. The festivities end on Shrove Tuesday (in English) or Fat Tuesday (in French Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, devout Roman Catholics attend a Mass and get a spot of ash in the shape of a cross placed in the middle of their foreheads.
Lent commences on Ash Wednesday and concludes on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.
Originally, various Christian groups established the observance as an interval ranging from a few days to several weeks. Eventually it was fixed in the eighth century at 40 days. (The number 40 has a religious significance in the Bible. For instance Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had each spent 40 days in the desert.) Among Roman Catholics, Lent lasts for six-and-a-half weeks before Easter, excluding Sundays.
According to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, it comprises a full eight weeks since Saturdays and Sundays are both excluded.
On Palm Sunday (the first day of Holy Week), Jesus and his disciples entered the city of Jerusalem, where people were gathering for the Jewish festival of Passover. As word of Jesus’ arrival spread through the city, it aroused great excitement among those who were convinced that he was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews, foretold by Isaiah. People welcomed his arrival by waving palm fronds and spreading palm branches as a carpet across his path. Palm Sunday commemorates the event, and Roman Catholics receive twisted pieces of palm fronds to take home.
Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week, and the day before Good Friday, derives its name from the French mandé (from Latin mandatum), referring to the command given by Jesus to the disciples during the Last Supper: “Love one another as I have loved you.” He uttered the commandment after washing the Apostles’ feet, another of his last actions that has become increasingly popular in Christian churches on this day. In the Roman Catholic Church the day is called Holy Thursday. Maundy Thursday as part of the Holy Week celebrations reminds all human beings of their basic duties: establishing a firm relationship with God and loving their fellow human beings and all living creatures.
Good Friday is a solemn day for Christians because it is the day on which they believe Jesus was crucified, suffered, and died. In Early Modern English, good meant “holy.” Christmas, for example, was spoken of as a “good tide”; in an elided form, good in this sense also turns up in the word gospel, which means “good news.” For devout Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Good Friday is a fast day. Orthodox Christians spend the day abstaining from all food, to the extent that their health permits.
Roman Catholics also refrain from more than one normal meal, though they may add up to two small meals, as required, for good health. Good Friday is the only day that the divine liturgy, or Mass, is not celebrated in those churches, but Catholics can receive the Eucharist (Communion) on Holy Thursday.
Members of the Eastern Orthodox Churches meet as many as three times on Good Friday to pray.
In spite of regional variations, the festival of Easter Sunday is marked by early morning Masses for Catholics and special services in Protestant Churches. This day may well be considered the climax, or turning point, of the festivities that take place before and during Holy Week. Easter Sunday celebrates the day that Jesus is believed to have risen from the grave, and his Resurrection became a symbol of resurgence of life and renewed hopes.
Easter Monday is a Christian holiday celebrated on the day after Easter Sunday. Formerly, it was celebrated as a part of the Easter Week but was reduced to a one-day celebration during the 19th century. The events that take place on this day are essentially fun-filled and include egg-rolling competitions and drenching other people with water. Originally, holy water, which was used to bless homes and food, was also used for these playful pranks.
Pentecost, the Christian festival that commemorates the visitation of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ Apostles, begins 50 days following Easter, and 10 days after the celebration of his Ascension into heaven. In English-speaking countries, especially in Britain, Pentecost is also called Whitsun (Whitsunday), from Old English Hwita Sunnandæg. The week beginning on Whitsunday (especially the first three days) is called Whitsuntide. Many Christians observe this time as the beginnings of the church.
There are many activities and beliefs associated with the Easter holiday including eggs, Easter baskets, in which eggs and various candies are placed, the Easter Bunny (who delivers the eggs), and the special Easter hats worn by women. Before the egg became closely linked with the Christian festival of Easter, it was closely associated with various spring festivals. The Romans, Gauls, Chinese, Egyptians, and Persians all regarded the egg as a symbol of the universe. In pagan times the egg represented fertility and the rebirth of the Earth. After the long, harsh winter, the Earth burst forth with signs of new life just as life emerges from eggs. With the advent of Christianity the symbolism of the egg changed to represent the rebirth of all humankind, and Christians adopted the symbol of the egg and linked it to Jesus’ tomb from which he was resurrected.
Eggs have been a part of many activities commonly attached to Easter observances. Egg rolling, perhaps one of the most popular, is a traditional Easter custom still practiced in Europe and northern England on Easter Sunday or Monday. Scores of eggs are rolled downhill or along slopes by the people to commemorate the rolling away of the rock from the mouth of the cave where Jesus was buried. The gaily colored and decorated hardboiled eggs that survive the arduous journey are cracked and then eaten. In France egg-rolling contests consist of rolling raw eggs (marked to identify the owner) down a gentle slope. The egg that survives the bumpy journey and attacks by other eggs in the race is declared the “victory egg.” The basic rule of these egg-rolling contests is to see who can roll an egg the farthest without breaking it. The individual whose egg survives the journey without getting damaged is declared the winner. In Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, and Russia, eggs are rolled down a tilted board. If a player rolls an egg down the board so that it collides with an egg on the ground at the end of the board, then that player gets both eggs.
This entertaining activity has also spread to countries like St. Lucia, Martinique, Grenada, the Cayman Islands, and Guadeloupe, among many others, where egg rolling on Easter Monday has become popular.
Easter baskets originated with the Catholic custom of taking the food prepared for Easter dinner to Mass to be blessed, a custom copied from the ancient ritual of bringing the first crops and seedlings to the temple to ensure a good growing season. This practice, combined with the “rabbit’s nest” awaited by the Pennsylvania Dutch children, has evolved into brightly colored containers filled with sweets, toys, and the like believed to be left for children on Easter morning by the hare.
The Easter lily is associated with purity because of its whiteness and delicacy of form. It also symbolizes innocence and the radiance of the new life promised by Jesus. Lilies are associated with Easter because they bloom in early spring, during the Easter season.
The Easter bonnet and the wearing of new clothes on Easter Sunday are recent additions to Easter traditions, probably based on the ancient idea that new clothes and colors symbolized the end of winter, new life, and renewal.