Easter commemorates Jesus Christ’s ressurection from the dead and it is Christianity’s most salient holiday. It is considered a “moveable feast” since it is not celebrated on a set date every year, unlike most holidays. Christian churches in the West celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox on March 21st. Thus, Easter falls anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th every year. Orthodox Christians use the Julian calender to calculate Easter date and usually celebrate the holiday a week or two after the Western churches, which follow the Gregorian calender.
Easter Religious Roots
Easter is in reality an entire season of the Christian church year instead of a single-day observance. Lent, the 40-day period immediately preceding Easter Sunday, is a time of reflection and penence inspired by the 40 days that Jesus spent in solitude in the wilderness before starting his ministry. Christians believe that during this time he overcame various temptations posed by the devil to distract him from his holy mission.
Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the day before the commencement of Lent, is a last feast with food and fun before the fasting begins. The last week leading up to Easter is called Holy Week. It includes Maundy Thursday, on which Jesus’ last supper with his disciples is celebrated; Good Friday, which commemorates the day of his crucifixion; and Holy Saturday which honors the transition between the crucifixion and resurrection. The 50-day period succeeding Easter Sunday is called Eastertide and it includes a celebration of the culmination of Jesus’ life on Earth – his ascension into heaven.
According to many cultural historians, the celebration of Easter is the convergence of three traditions – Pagan, Hebrew, and Christian. The exact origins of the religious festival’s name are unknown. According to St. Bede, an English historian of the early 8th century, the name Easter was adopted from the old Teutonic mythology. It was derived from the name of Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon Pagan goddess of spring, who was celebrated during the whole month of April. On the day of the vernal equinox, when the day and night share an equal part of the day, the spring goddess’ festival took place.
The English name “Easter” was adopted much later. The early English Christians incorporated and adapted a number of Pagan traditions and celebrations as a way to attract believers to the religion of Christianity. Therefore, the name Easter was adopted and the Pagan goddess and her celebration of spring was fused with the commemoration of Jesus’s life, death and rebirth. However, Easter is also related to the Hebrew tradition and more specifically to the Jewish Passover which is commemorated during Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew lunar year. The Hebrew festival celebrates Isreali people’s deliverance who under the guidance of Moses were freed from approximately 300 years of bondage in Egypt.
During the celebration of Passover, in 30 AD Jesus Christ was crucified under the order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate with the Jewish high priests reinforcing his order as the accused him of “blasphemy”. They supported that he misleadingly called himself, the Messiah in an attempt to manipulate believers. Three days after the crucifixion, on Easter Sunday, Jesus was resurrection. The first Christians who had been brought up in Jewish tradition regarded Easter as a new feature of the Pascha (Passover). They considered it a multiple celebration also honoring the foretold by the prophets advent of the Messiah and his resurrection. Thus, the early Christian Passover was integrated with the celebration in memory of the passions, death, and coming back to life of Christ. However, by the 4th century, Good Friday was regarded as a celebration on its own rights and Pascha Sunday had been excusively assigned to the celebration of the sublime resurrection. With the passing of years, the Sunday of Pascha had become a holiday to honor Christ. With Christianity prevailing over Peganism a great number of converts followed the teachings of Jesus. At the same time a lot of the pegan spring rites were amalgamated with this Christian celebration as a way to facilitate the conversion of new members of the religious community. The reluctance of these groups to break ancient bones with their pegan forefathers’ culture shaped the celebration of Easter which was not limited to the change of name but also extended to the incorporation of folk customs such as Easter eggs, bunnies, baskets and different types of candy.