History of Easter (Pascha)
Easter is known as Pascha, Passover, Feast of the Resurrection,
Sunday of the Resurrection and Resurrection Day. It is celebrated in
late March to April in the western world and early April to early May
in the Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
Easter is the holiest holiday of the year for Christians around the world. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of the Christian faith. Because the Bible says that Jesus rose from the
dead three days after his crucifixion, Easter is celebrated by Western
Christians on Sunday. Good Friday is recognized as the occurrence of His death by crucifixion around 33 A.D.
The actual date of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection have been
argued among Christians and Catholics. Some say it should be celebrated
on the 14th of Nisan using the Old Testament's Hebrew calendar. This makes it difficult to celebrate because the 14th of Nisan is determined by the moon and could fall on any day of the week.
Although the Passover at the time of Jesus' death was on the 14th of
Nisan, Easter is always celebrated by Western Christians on a Sunday,
the day of worship for modern Christians. Easter Sunday is the first
Sunday following a full moon after March 21.
Early Christians did not celebrate Easter. They followed Jewish customs and celebrated Passover.
They also followed the Hebrew calendar. Most believe Easter was a
celebration invented by the Church of Rome to transform a pagan
holiday, Eostre, into a Christian celebration. The Church of Rome
adopted the Julian calendar and some western churches adopted the Gregorian calendar to calculate the date. To this day, the date is celebrated on different dates by both eastern and western Christians.
Because Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover, a Jewish holiday, the holiday is derived from the the Hebrew, Pesach, which means Passover. However, the English name of "Easter" is taken from a Saxon goddess named Eostre who was celebrated at about that time. The legend is that Eostre gave a
rabbit friend the power to lay eggs once a year on the Spring Equinox.
The eggs symbolized new beginnings and the rabbit symbolized fertility.
Initially, because the egg was a symbol of Eostre, the Catholic Church
forbid the use of eggs during Lent. As was common, the Catholic Church
took pagan holidays and transformed them into religious holidays in an
attempt to convert pagans to Catholicism.
To Roman Catholics, Easter marks the end of the forty days of Lent,
a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter. Lent
begins on Ash Wednesday. To all western Christians, the Sunday before
Easter is called Palm Sunday, the Thursday before is called Maundy Thursday (Holy Thursday), and the Friday before is called Good Friday.
Palm Sunday celebrates the time when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a
donkey. When he entered, people worshiped him and placed palm leaves on
the ground before Him. Good Friday marks Jesus' crucifixion.
To eastern Christians, preparation for Easter begins with Great
Lent. After the fifth Sunday of Great Lent, the following week is
called Palm Week and ends with Lazarus Saturday. Lazarus Saturday is the last day
of Great Lent. The day after Lazarus Saturday is Palm Sunday. Palm
Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Pascha (Easter) marks the end
of Holy Week. On that day, they end their fasting with a Divine
Liturgy. The following week is called Bright Week.
Roman Catholics celebrate Easter beginning on Holy Saturday with the
Easter Vigil, the most important liturgy of the year. It begins in
darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, the lighting of the
Paschal candle. The Paschal candle symbolizes the risen Christ. Easter
is considered the perfect time to receive baptism and membership in the
Church. The Easter Vigil ends with the celebration of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Protestants call the Eucharist "communion"
and welcome anyone to celebrate. The morning of Easter, Catholics bring
large statues of Jesus and Mary together to "meet." This represents
Jesus' mother, Mary, meeting for the first time since the resurrection.
They conclude with Easter Mass.
Protestants usually begin celebrations with an Easter "Sonrise"
service [A play on words for the Son of God]. It begins with a
breakfast that represents the time the women came to visit Jesus' tomb
at dawn. Many Easter Sunrise services are held outdoors on the church's
lawn or a park. Easter Lillies decorate the church and festive hymns
Many Christians dress up on Easter Sunday with women wearing hats
and dresses with lace. Churches across America report that they have
the highest church attendance of the year on Easter Sunday.
Passover is observed by both Christians and Jews alike. In the Torah
(Old Testament) or the book of Exodus, God told the enslaved Israelites
to mark their door posts with lamb's blood in order to spare them the
slaughter that was about to strike Egypt. When God would see the blood,
he would "pass over" the home and spare the occupants. This was the
final plague inflicted on Egypt as a result of Ramses II, the Pharaoh,
refusing to free the Israelites.
After the first-born Egyptians died, Ramses reluctantly released the
Israelites. Later, the entire Egyptian army perished while crossing the
Dead Sea as they were chasing the Israelites. To this day, Jews and
many Christians remember this event in what is known as the Passover.
Because the Israelites were in a hurry to leave Egypt, they didn't
have time to take dough that would rise and later be baked. They took
raw dough that was baked in the hot desert sun. These became like hard
crackers and are called Matzohs. Matzohs are eaten during the Passover
The most important part of the celebration is the Passover Seder.
Seder means "order" in Hebrew and are observed the first two nights of
the eight-day event. The Seder includes great meals, special foods,
stories from the book of Exodus, songs, and prayers. Leavened foods are
not allowed, and only kosher food is eaten. Three pieces of Matzohs are
placed on the table. The middle one is broken before the meal. Half is
returned to the table and the other half is hidden. Children hunt for
the hidden piece after the meal and whoever finds it gets an award.
Four cups of wine are drunk to represent the four states of Exodus.
Pagan Easter Traditions
Because Easter was originally a Pagan holiday, there are many
non-religious traditions. Favorite Easter food includes chocolate
Easter eggs, jelly beans, Peeps,
and marshmallow and chocolate bunnies. In America, Easter eggs are
typically decorated on Saturday and hunted on Sunday. Americans hide
these eggs around their homes and gardens. Some locations have
community Easter egg hunts. Some parents tell their children that the
eggs have been hidden by the Easter bunny. Why the bunny would ever
hide these eggs is unclear.
Most historians say the the reason for the use of eggs and a bunny
for Easter is because the egg represented the goddess Eostre. Eostre
could also take the form of a hare. In the 17th century, people hunted
rabbits on Good Friday.
In Norway, they ski in the mountains and paint eggs. They love to
solve murders on Easter and most of their television shows are crime
and detective stories. Milk cartons have murder mystery stories on
them. They like to play Yahtzee. In Finland and Sweden the children
dress as witches and warlocks and collect candy door-to-door as with
Halloween in the United States. In the Netherlands, fires are lit at
sunset on Easter.
|Here we see the Pomlazka in action. The men are whipping the legs of the women.
Perhaps the most bizarre traditions on Easter are carried out by the Czech Republic, Hungary
and Slovakia. Easter morning the young men and boys douse the girls
with water and whip them with a handmade whip called the pomlazka (Called a korbac in Slovakia and Śmigus-dyngus in Poland). The purpose
of this is for men to show their attraction to women and to have good
luck with the upcoming harvest (No word on how whipping illustrates
attraction toward women). The whipped female then gives a decorated egg
called a kraslice to the male as a sign of thankfulness. (Perhaps
thankful he quit whipping her) They then tie a ribbon to the boy's
whip. The more ribbons on their whips, the prouder the boys are. The
girls will save the best egg for the boy they have the most interest
in. In some areas, the women get revenge in the afternoon by pouring a
bucket of cold water on the men. Older men are given Třešňovice, a
cherry brandy, instead of eggs.
Easter Activity Books