Fun and Interesting Facts about One of the Most Important Holidays
What does Easter represent for you Some treasure the story and the symbols behind it, others focus on spending quality time with their close ones. For some, Easter is just another day of the calendar, and there are also people who turn the holiday into an occasion to have fun and fool around, filling their homes and yards with colored eggs and bunnies. What is the true meaning of Easter, and how did it all begin Keep reading to find out!
The Story, Date, and Meaning of Easter
Easter is the holiday when Christians commemorate the death and, especially, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God. According to the Bible, he died to wash away humanity’s sins, and returned to life after three days. Those who believe in him and live by his teachings will be absolved of their sins and enjoy an afterlife in Heaven.
However, not everything about this holiday is of Christian origin. The name, for example, Easter, is a combination of two pagan names referring to spring festivals. Ostara is one of them, and refers to an old European festival that celebrated new life. Ishtar is the other name, associated to an Arabian festival that celebrates the virgin goddess with the same name from the Mesopotamian religion.
It seems the Christians reinterpreted the pagan festivals celebrating new life, associating them with the new life and opportunities Jesus offered the world by dying for them and rising from the dead. While Christmas is just a symbolic date for Jesus’ birth (there is no telling when the event actually took place), his death coincided with the Jewish Passover festival, so it took place around Easter.
The Passover is the holiday dedicated to the Jewish’s escape from slavery in Egypt. It is celebrated in the first month of the Jewish New Year. The date changes from one year to another, according to the moon cycles the Jewish calendar follows. Since the Bible says Jesus returned to life on a Sunday, Christians began to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the Passover.
Over time, the dates began to be calculated differently, so they no longer coincide. However, Christians calculate the Easter date according to the moon as well, so the date changes every year, sometimes getting really close to the Passover. Today, we celebrate Easter in the first Sunday following the first Full Moon after the spring equinox, March 21st.
Just like Christmas preparations begin early in December, Christians begin to celebrate and prepare for Easter 46 days earlier. It all starts with the Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lent period. Throughout the 46 days, Christians supposedly cleanse their bodies and spirits by refraining from animal-based foods and behaving at their best.
The celebration lasts for 49 more days after Easter Sunday, covering the Ascension Day, when Jesus Christ rose to heaven, and ending with the Descent of the Holy Spirit, or the Christian Festival of Whitsun, or Pentecost.
Easter Days, Symbols, and Traditions to Remember
It is the Tuesday preceding the Ash Wednesday and the Lent. Its name, Shrove (Shriven), speaks about the Christians’ habit of confessing their sins and repenting. On this day, Christians have to use up, or get rid of all ingredients of animal origins in their kitchen.
Milk and eggs are usually present in all homes, and the simplest solution to use them is to add some flour and flavors, and obtain pancake batter. Most families have made a habit out of it, and their practice led to the spreading of the Pancake Day name.
It is the period preceding Easter, and covers around 46 days, 40 if you don’t count Sundays. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Eve. Christians use this period to prepare for the celebration and strengthen their relationship with the Divinity.
Traditionally, this period coincides with the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, subject to the Devil’s temptations. Since the story says Jesus did not eat or eat anything throughout this period, many Christians fast. Some give up all foods and drinks throughout the day, others stay away from animal produce. There are also Christians who will only give up luxury foods, like creamy cakes, chocolate, etc.
It follows the Shrove Tuesday and represents the first Lent day. The name speaks of an old tradition that involves putting a cross of ash on the forehead of the people attending the church services that day. The ash cross symbolizes confession, repent, and is the way people found to ask God to forgive their sins.
This practice is still common in some churches. In others, the ash stays in palm branches burned after the previous year’s Palm Sunday service. Ash also symbolizes death (all bodies eventually turn into ash and dust), and reminds Christians that Lent is a preparation to acknowledge Jesus’ death and celebrate his resurrection.
This is the week preceding Easter Sunday, and the last week of Lent. It begins with Palm Sunday and includes the Maundy Thursday, the Good Friday, and the Easter Sunday. Every day of this week, but especially the 3 days mentioned, are an occasion for special religious services.
The first day in the Holy Week commemorates Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem riding a donkey. Its name comes from the palm and olive tree branches people waved to greet Jesus. They shouted Hosanna (the Hebrew term for God Saves) and laid some on the ground to ease the donkey’s walk on the rocks.
The Holy Week Thursday celebrates the Jewish Passover, according to the Bible’s Easter story. The term Maundy has Latin origins and means Command, reminding of Jesus’ command that his followers think of him when eating bread and drinking wine. They still follow this command during the Christian service known as Mass, Communion, or Eucharist.
Maundy Thursdy is the day of Jesus’ last dinner with his followers, The Last Supper. The story has it they were eating bread and roast lamb, and drank red wine. Jesus told them the bread they were eating and the wine they were drinking would symbolize his blood and body, and should remind everyone that his death would bring about forgiveness for their sins.
It is one the most important days for Christians, the one when Jesus died for humanity. The Romans crucified him on a hill at the outskirts of Jerusalem, even though he hadn’t committed any crimes. The crucifying involved wrist and feet tying and nailing to a wooden cross. With Jesus’ crucifying, the cross became the symbol of the Christian faith.
Holy Saturday / Easter Eve
It is the day before Easter Sunday, the only full day when Jesus was dead. It also marks the end of Lent. Some churches have services on its evening, but others only begin the service after midnight, to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
Christians consider Easter Day as the most important day of their year. It is the day Jesus returned to life, saving humanity and defeating evil. Christians and even non-believers dedicate this day to celebrations, especially after the 40 days of fasting.
The celebrations continue on this day with egg rolling races, one of the most important ones being organized at the White House. The president himself may participate in the race, and it is actually exciting to see which egg reaches the bottom of the hill unbroken.
It is a habit stemming from the need to explain Bible stories to those who couldn’t read and write. Their name comes from the use of the term Passion to express Jesus’ love for humanity, so great that it made him sacrifice himself for us.
Eggs and Chicks
They are pagan signs of new life and fertility that the Christians borrowed to remind them of the Resurrection and the chance to a New Life Jesus offered everyone.
Bunnies and Lambs
Bunnies and lambs are common Easter symbols borrowed from the pagans, who considered them signs of new life and good luck. The association with Easter seems natural, considering that most bunnies and lambs come to life in spring, around Easter.
The Bible speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God, and lambs are still sacrificed to compensate for the believers’ sins and wrong doings in the Jewish faith, just like Jesus. In some countries, the Easter Day meal revolves around lamb.
They represent an old European tradition that involved wearing flowers on one’s hat or head to celebrate spring. In some countries, women now wear flower bonnets to celebrate Easter and show off their joy for Jesus’ resurrection!
Symbols of spring, these gracious plants are a common presence at Easter festivals around the world. Different flower varieties have different meanings. White lilies, for example, signify Jesus’ goodness and purity. Passionflowers commemorate Jesus’ death on the Cross.
All holidays have their culinary traditions, and the situation isn’t any different with Easter. Of course, Easter traditions referring to food vary from one country to another. Here are the most popular Easter foods across the globe
• Hot Cross Buns are a must on Good Friday for UK Christians.
• The Simnel Cake is another UK tradition, a delicious fruit-rich cake wrapped in Marzipan and topped with 11 marzipan balls representing Jesus’ 11 faithful disciples.
• Pancakes are an unwritten law for Shrove Tuesday.
• Italians love salty Pretzels around Easter.
• Russians prefer Blini’s, small pancakes topped with anchovies, and a cream, dried fruit and orange peel mix called Paska.
• In Greece, tradition calls for an Easter cake with almonds and oranges, as well as lamb soup for breakfast.
Some see them as food, others see them as an occasion to have fun. What’s more engaging than an egg hunt on a warm spring day, with kids running around, and bird singing Whether you boil and dye real eggs, or use artificial ones, they make it all worthwhile.
The story has it that Mary placed a basket of eggs at the bottom of the cross Jesus was on, and the blood pouring from his wounds turned the eggs red. Having red eggs around for Easter is a way of celebrating Jesus’ ability to defeat pain and death.
What Are Your Plans for This Easter
No matter which of the above traditions appeal to you, or how much time you have available, I have one word for you: family. It doesn’t have to refer to your spouse, parents, kids, or siblings. It can refer to your friends, neighbors, work colleagues, or pets.
The bottom line is that, on special occasions like this one, you should be celebrating and enjoying life next to your loved ones. You should open your heart, leave the bad behind, and focus on the good and beautiful in your life. Live every minute to the full, enjoy every sunray, and good luck hiding or finding those eggs!