What Does Easter Celebrate?

What is Easter? blog series exploring the history and origins odfspring traditions What Does Easter Celebrate?

In the Christian religions, Easter is the celebration of Jesus coming back to life (called the resurrection) three days after being crucified by the Romans and buried in a tomb. Easter is not celebrated by all Christians. Some Christian groups that separated during the protestant reformation do not celebrate Easter and consider it, among other things, pagan. Other Abrahamic religions, such as Muslim, Bahá’í, and Judaism believe Jesus was a prophet.

For Christians who do celebrate, there is a lead up period called Lent when it is common to give up something, chocolate or alcohol are common today, as well as not eating meat on Fridays. In parts of the world, a weekly communal meal of fish is served, commonly called Friday Fish Fry. Sometimes, it is hosted by a church as a fundraiser and it is often a featured dinner special at restaurants.

In the past, a vegan diet (no meat or animal products such as eggs or honey) was the norm for some groups during Lent. Lent has subsections of time and days such as Palm Sunday (Jesus returns to Jerusalem and people lay down palm leaves for his donkey to walk on.) Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday (the Last Supper), Good Friday (crucifixion day), Holy Saturday (the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection)

Much like Christmas, the date of the Easter celebration took some time to be established. Even today, eastern Orthodox Easter is not celebrated on the same day as the Catholic celebration. The date is currently determined based on an ecclesiastical moon called the pascal moon. Pascal comes from the word Passover.  To be clear, this is not a lunar-based event, rather a roundabout date in the Christian calendar that is intended to be the Sunday following the Spring Equinox.

Like Christmas, Easter has also seen some religious syncretism (synk-re-tizm), that is, different beliefs blending and reshaping over time and influence.

Looking back through history, the Vernal Equinox and beginning of Spring was widely celebrated in many cultures. A time of renewal, celebrating the return of fresh foods, and new life. Return of birds (baking bread in the shape of a bird and throwing it into the air.)

In Slavic countries, Dazhboh was a deity of the sun. Birds were seen as the god’s special creations and getting the eggs laid by the birds was intended to bring the egg holder closer to their god.

In Egypt, Sham Ennessim, a contemporary holiday, celebrates the beginning of spring with, among other things, colored eggs. This holiday is the evolution of Shemu, the 1st-century celebration of spring.

In Iran, Western and Central Asia and other parts of the world, a New Year holiday called NowRuz is celebrated on the Vernal Equinox. Originating in Zoroastrian, it is now more or less a secular holiday. (Quick note, Zoroastrian shares the myth of the virgin birth of a savior(s) who is the son of god bringing judgment, resurrection of the dead and eternal life). Among other traditions, many families include decorated eggs as a symbol of fertility and new life.

In China, Start of Spring, also known as Chinese New Year, has been celebrated for almost 4000 years. Also based on a lunar calendar, Chinese New Year also incorporates the zodiac. You may be familiar with “Year of the Pig” and red decorations. This celebration also includes new clothing, special foods and gifts of money. The history of the holiday revolves around a mythical creature who would ravage a village and eat the villagers until a hero stepped up and scared the creature away with the color red and fireworks.

While we don’t have any evidence that the spring holidays coalesced into the Easter we see today, the celebration of Spring has a long history throughout the world.

Next, we will learn about egg decorating…