(ABC4) – Easter, a festival of the Christian church, celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his Crucifixion.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the earliest recorded observance of an Easter celebration comes from the 2nd century.
The word itself, “Easter,” is closely related to the German word “Ostern,” and many believe that it derived from “Eostre,” or “Eostrae,” the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.
However, there is now a consensus that the word comes from the Christian designation of Easter week as in albis, a Latin phrase that was known as the plural of “alba,” which means “dawn,” and became “eostarum,” in Old High German.
Additionally, the Latin and Greek “Pascha,” or “Passover,” is the root for “Pâques,” which is the French word for Easter.
The date was, in fact, a controversy in early Christianity, in which the East and West disagreed – in the East, Christians observed the day of the Crucifixion on the same day that Jews celebrated the Passover offering (the 14th day of the first full moon of spring), meaning that the Resurrection was observed two days later, on the 16th, regardless of the day of the week. In the West, the Resurrection was celebrated on the first Sunday after the 14th.
Fast forward to today, and Easter is now celebrated my many traditions – some that have directly relevant meaning, and some that have very little to do with the Christian meaning of the holiday.
The custom of the lamb comes from scripture, “behold the lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world,” John 1:29, as well as the lamb’s role as a sacrificial animal in ancient Israel. Christians would place lamb meat under the altar, bless it, and then eat it on Easter.
Painting and decorating eggs was first recorded in the 13th century, as the church forbid the eating of eggs during the Holy Week. The eggs that were laid during that week were then specially identified as “Holy Week” eggs, and decorated as a result.
There is some symbolism there too – just as Jesus rises from the tomb, so does new life from the eggshell.
The Easter bunny tradition comes from Protestant areas in Europe in the 17th century, but did not become common until the 19th century.
The rabbit is said to lay eggs as well as decorate and hide them, which is understood to be a Protestant rejection of the Catholic Easter customs, and in some European countries, other animals like the fox, or the cuckoo, brought the Easter eggs.
Easter follows Lent in the Christian calendar, which is the period of 40 days before Easter, which traditionally is observed by acts of penance and fasting. And just before Easter is the Holy Week, which includes Maundy Thursday, the commemoration of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, Good Friday, the day of his Crucifixion, and Holy Saturday, the transition between Crucifixion and Resurrection.
So remember, as you enjoy the festivities that Sunday brings, Easter is a holiday full of rich historical and religious meaning!