2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Everyday life; Religious movements, traditions and organizations
16th century Russian Orthodox icon of the Descent into The Hades of Jesus Christ, which is the usual Orthodox icon for Pascha.
|Observed by||Most Christians|
|Significance||Celebrates the resurrection of Jesus|
|Date||First Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21|
|2007 date||April 8 (both Western and Eastern)|
|2008 date|| March 23 ( Western)
April 27 ( Eastern)
|2009 date|| April 12 ( Western)
April 19 ( Eastern)
|Celebrations||Religious (church) services, festive family meals, Easter egg hunts, and gift-giving (latter two, especially in USA and Canada)|
|Observances||Prayer, all-night vigil (almost exclusively Eastern traditions), sunrise service (especially American Protestant traditions)|
|Related to||Passover, of which it is regarded the Christian equivalent; Septuagesima, Sexagesima, Quinquagesima, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday which lead up to Easter; and Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi which follow it.|
Easter, also called Pascha, is the most important religious feast in the Christian liturgical year. Christians celebrate this day in observance of their belief that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, now estimated to have taken place between the years AD 26 and AD 36. Many non-religious cultural elements have become part of the holiday, and those aspects are often celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike.
Easter also refers to the season of the church year called Eastertide or the Easter Season. Traditionally the Easter Season lasted for the forty days from Easter Day until Ascension Day but now officially lasts for the fifty days until Pentecost. The first week of the Easter Season is known as Easter Week or the Octave of Easter. Easter also marks the end of Lent, a season of prayer and penance.
Easter is termed a moveable feast because it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. Easter falls at some point between late March and late April each year (early April to early May in Eastern Christianity), following the cycle of the moon. After several centuries of disagreement, all churches accepted the computation of the Alexandrian Church (now the Coptic Church) that Easter is the first Sunday after the first fourteenth day of the moon (the Paschal Full Moon) that is on or after the ecclesiastical vernal equinox.
Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover not only for much of its symbolism but also for its position in the calendar. The Last Supper shared by Jesus and his disciples before his crucifixion is generally thought of as a Passover meal, based on the chronology in the Synoptic Gospels ( Matthew 26:17; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7). The Gospel of John, however, speaks of the Jewish elders not wanting to enter the hall of Pilate in order "that they might eat the Passover", implying that the Passover meal had not yet occurred ( John 18:28; John 19:14). Thus, John places Christ's death at the time of the slaughter of the Passover lamb, which would put the Last Supper slightly before Passover, on 14 Nisan of the Bible's Hebrew calendar. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, "In fact, the Jewish feast was taken over into the Christian Easter celebration."
The modern English term Easter developed from the Old English word Eastre, which itself developed prior to AD 899. The name refers to the Eostur-monath, a month of the Germanic calendar which may have been named for the goddess Eostre in Germanic paganism, attested only by Bede.
"Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit."
which translates as:
"Eostur-month, which is now interpreted as the paschal month, was formerly named after the goddess Eostre, and has given its name to the festival."
Some scholars have suggested that a lack of supporting documentation for this goddess might indicate that Bede assumed her existence based on the name of the month. Others state that Bede's status as "the Father of English History," having been the author of the first substantial history of England ever written, might make the lack of additional mention of a goddess whose worship had already died out by Bede's time unsurprising. The debate receives considerable attention because the name 'Easter' is derived from Eostur-monath, and thus, according to Bede, from the Germanic goddess Eostre, though this etymology is sometimes disputed.
Jacob Grimm took up the question of Eostre in his 1835 work Deutsche Mythologie. Grimm notes that Ostara-manoth is etymologically related to Eostur-monath, and in writing of various landmarks and customs that he believed to be related to a putative goddess he named Ostara in Germany.
In all Romance languages the name of the Easter festival is derived from the Greek name, Pascha which is itself derived from Pesach, the Hebrew festival of Passover.
Christians speaking Semitic languages (primarily Arabic) generally use names cognate to Hebrew Pesach (פֶּסַח). For instance, the second word of the Arabic name of the festival عيد الفصح ʿĪd al-Fiṣḥ has the root F-Ṣ-Ḥ, which given the sound laws applicable to Arabic is cognate to Hebrew P-S-Ḥ, with "Ḥ" realized as /x/ in Hebrew and /ħ/ in Arabic. Arabic also uses the term عيد القيامة ʿĪd al-Qīāmah, meaning "festival of the resurrection," but this term is less common.
In most Slavic languages, the name for Easter either means "Great Day" or "Great Night". For example, Wielkanoc and Velikonoce mean "Great Night" or "Great Nights" in Polish and Czech, respectively. Великдень (Velykden), Великден (Velikden) and Вялікдзень (Vyalikdzyen') mean "The Great Day" in Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Belarusian, respectively.
In Croatian, however, the day's name reflects a particular theological connection: it is called Uskrs, meaning "Resurrection". In Croatian it is also called Vazam (Vzem or Vuzem in Old Croatian), which is a noun that originated from the Old Church Slavonic verb vzeti (now uzeti in Croatian, meaning "to take"). It also explains the fact that in Serbian Easter is called Vaskrs, a liturgical form inherited from the Serbian recension of Church Slavonic. It is also known that long ago it was called Velja noć (velmi: Old Slavic for "great"; noć: "night") in Croatian. The verb krstiti in Croatian means "to baptize", so the words krštenje (baptizing) and Uskrs are supposed to derive from Christ's name, from which the word krst was later formed, now meaning "cross" (nowadays having a synonym, križ). It is believed that Cyril and Methodius, the Greek "holy brothers" who baptized the Slavic people and translated Christian books from Latin into Old Church Slavonic, invented the word Uskrs from the word krsnuti or "enliven".
Another exception is Russian, in which the name of the feast, Пасха (Paskha), is a borrowing of the Greek form via Old Church Slavonic.
In all modern Celtic languages the term for Easter is derived from Latin. In Brythonic languages this has yielded Welsh Pasg, Cornish and Breton Pask. In Goidelic languages the word was borrowed before these languages had re-developed the /p/ sound and as a result the initial /p/ was replaced with /k/. This yielded Irish Cáisc, Gaelic Càisg and Manx Caisht. These terms are normally used with the definite article in Goidelic languages, causing lenition in all cases: An Cháisc, A' Chàisg and Y Chaisht.
Easter in the early Church
The observance of any non-Jewish special holiday throughout the Christian year is believed by some to be an innovation postdating the Early Church. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus (b. 380) attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of local custom, "just as many other customs have been established," stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. However, when read in context, this is not a rejection or denigration of the celebration—which, given its currency in Scholasticus' time would be surprising—but is merely part of a defense of the diverse methods for computing its date. Indeed, although he describes the details of the Easter celebration as deriving from local custom, he insists the feast itself is universally observed.
Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a 2nd century Paschal homily by Melito of Sardis, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one.
Very early in the life of the Church, it was accepted that the Eucharist was a practice of the disciples and an undisputed tradition. A dispute arose concerning the date on which Pascha (Easter) should be celebrated. This dispute came to be known as the Easter/Paschal or Quartodecimanism controversy.
The term Quartodeciman (derived from the Vulgate Latin, quarta decima, meaning fourteen) refers to the very early Christian practice of celebrating Easter on 14 Nisan of the Hebrew Calendar. Nisan 14 is the day of preparation for the Jewish celebration of Passover. Much later, during the Middle Ages, Nisan 14 was called the Paschal Full Moon.
The predominant practice in Anatolia or Asia Minor (including Antioch) was to celebrate Easter on 14 Nisan, while the practice elsewhere (Rome, Alexandria, Jerusalem) was to celebrate Easter on the following Sunday. Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, by tradition a disciple of John the Evangelist, according to the church historian Eusebius, disputed the computation of the date with Bishop Anicetus of Rome, specifically as to when the pre-Pascha fast should end. The practice in Asia Minor at the time was that the fast ended on 14 Nisan. The Roman/Alexandrian practice was to continue the fast until the Sunday following. An objection to 14 Nisan was that it could fall on any day of the week and the Roman and Alexandrian Churches wished to associate Pascha with Sunday (regardless of the day of the calendar) and sever the link to Jewish practices. According to a rather confused account by Sozomen, both sides could claim Apostolic authority for their traditions.
Shortly after Anicetus became bishop of Rome about 155, Polycarp visited Rome and among the topics discussed was this divergence of custom. Neither Polycarp nor Anicetus was able to persuade the other to his position, but neither did they consider the matter of sufficient importance to justify a schism, so they parted in peace leaving the question unsettled.
Polycarp, a disciple of John, likewise adhered to a 14 Nisan observance. Irenaeus, who observed the "first Sunday" rule notes of Polycarp (one of the bishops of Asia Minor), "For Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forgo the observance [of his Nisan 14 practice] inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of the Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant." (c. AD 180; 1.569 "Ante-Nicene Church Fathers"). Irenaeus notes that this was not only Polycarp's practice, but that this was the practice of John the disciple and the other apostles that Polycarp knew.
Polycrates (c. AD 190) emphatically notes this is the tradition passed down to him, that Passover and Unleavened Bread were kept on 14 Nisan in accord with the local interpretation of the dating of Passover: "As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia [meaning Asia Minor] great luminaries have gone to their rest who will rise again on the day of the coming of the Lord.... These all kept Pascha (Easter) on the 14th day, in accordance with the Gospel.... Seven of my relatives were bishops, and I am the eighth, and my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven" (8.773, 8.744 "Ante-Nicene Church Fathers").
An early example of this tension is found written by Theophilus of Caesarea (c. AD 180; 8.774 Ante-Nicene Fathers) when he stated -
- "Endeavor also to send abroad copies of our epistle among all the churches, so that those who easily deceive their own souls may not be able to lay the blame on us. We would have you know, too, that in Alexandria also they observe the festival on the same day as ourselves. For the Paschal letters are sent from us to them, and from them to us - so that we observe the holy day in unison and together."
A generation later bishop Victor of Rome excommunicated bishop Polycrates of Ephesus and the rest of the bishops of Asia Minor for their adherence to 14 Nisan custom. The excommunication was rescinded and the two sides reconciled upon the intervention of bishop Irenaeus of Lyons, who reminded Victor of the tolerant precedent that had been established earlier.
The 14 Nisan practice, which was strong among the churches of Asia Minor, became less common as the desire for Church unity on the question came to favour the majority practice. By the 3rd century the Church, which had become gentile-dominated and wishing to further distinguish itself from Jewish practices, began a tone of rhetoric against 14 Nisan/Passover (e.g. Anatolius of Laodicea, c. AD 270; 6.148,6.149 "Ante-Nicene Church Fathers"). The tradition that Easter was to be celebrated "not with the Jews" meant that Pascha was not to be celebrated on 14 Nisan.
In the end, the celebration of Pascha (Easter) on Sunday was not formally settled until the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 (see below), although by that time the Roman position had spread to most churches.
Date of Easter
|1989||March 26||April 30|
|1991||March 31||April 7|
|1992||April 19||April 26|
|1993||April 11||April 18|
|1994||April 3||May 1|
|1995||April 16||April 23|
|1996||April 7||April 14|
|1997||March 30||April 27|
|1998||April 12||April 19|
|1999||April 4||April 11|
|2000||April 23||April 30|
|2002||March 31||May 5|
|2003||April 20||April 27|
|2005||March 27||May 1|
|2006||April 16||April 23|
|2008||March 23||April 27|
|2009||April 12||April 19|
|2012||April 8||April 15|
|2013||March 31||May 5|
|2015||April 5||April 12|
|2016||March 27||May 1|
|2018||April 1||April 8|
|2019||April 21||April 28|
|2020||April 12||April 19|
Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (both of which follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons). Instead, the date for Easter is determined on a lunisolar calendar, as is the Hebrew calendar.
In Western Christianity, Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25 inclusively. The following day, Easter Monday, is a legal holiday in many countries with predominantly Christian traditions. In the Gregorian calendar used by Western Christianity, Easter also always falls on a Sunday from March 22 to April 25 inclusive, which in the Julian calendar used by Eastern Christianity, due to the 13 day difference between the calendars between 1900 and 2099, the dates are from April 4 to May 8 inclusive.
The precise date of Easter has at times been a matter for contention. At the First Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that all Christians would celebrate Easter on the same day, which would be a Sunday. It is probable that no method of determining the date was specified by the Council. (No contemporary account of the Council's decisions has survived.) Instead, the matter seems to have been referred to the church of Alexandria, which city had the best reputation for scholarship at the time. Epiphanius of Salamis wrote in the mid-4th Century:
- "...the emperor...convened a council of 318 bishops...in the city of Nicea...They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and at the same time decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God's holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people...".
The Council of Nicaea, however, did not declare the Alexandrian or Roman calculations as normative. Instead, the council gave the Bishop of Alexandria the privilege of announcing annually the date of Christian Passover to the Roman curia. Although the synod undertook the regulation of the dating of Christian Passover, it contented itself with communicating its decision to the different dioceses, instead of establishing a canon. Its exact words were not preserved, but from scattered notices the council ruled:
- that Easter must be celebrated by all throughout the world on the same Sunday;
- that this Sunday must follow the fourteenth day of the paschal moon;
- that the moon was to be accounted the paschal moon whose fourteenth day followed the vernal equinox;
- that some provision should be made, probably by the Church of Alexandria as best skilled in astronomical calculations, for determining the proper date of Easter and communicating it to the rest of the world.
It took a while for the Alexandrian rules to be adopted throughout Christian Europe. The Church of Rome continued to use an 84-year lunisolar calendar cycle from the late third century until 457. The Church of Rome continued to use its own methods until the 6th century, when it may have adopted the Alexandrian method as converted into the Julian calendar by Dionysius Exiguus (certain proof of this does not exist until the ninth century). Early Christians in Britain and Ireland also used a late third century Roman 84-year cycle until the Synod of Whitby in 664, when they adopted the Alexandrian method. Churches in western continental Europe used a late Roman method until the late 8th century during the reign of Charlemagne, when they finally adopted the Alexandrian method. However, with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar by the Catholic Church in 1582 and the continuing use of the Julian calendar by Eastern Orthodox Churches, the date on which Easter is celebrated again deviated, and continues to this day.
The rule has since the Middle Ages been phrased as Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox. However, this does not reflect the actual ecclesiastical rules precisely. One reason for this is that the full moon involved (called the Paschal full moon) is not an astronomical full moon, but an ecclesiastical moon. Another difference is that the astronomical vernal equinox is a natural astronomical phenomenon, while the ecclesiastical vernal equinox is a fixed March 21. Easter is determined from tables which determine Easter based on the ecclesiastical rules described above, which approximate the astronomical full moon.
In applying the ecclesiastical rules, the various Christian Churches use 21 March as their starting point from which they find the next full moon, etc. However because Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches use the Julian Calendar as their starting point, while Western Christianity uses the Gregorian Calendar, the end point, the date for Easter, may diverge. (see table)
The calculations for the date of Easter are somewhat complicated. In the Western Church, Easter has not fallen on the earliest of the 35 possible dates, March 22, since 1818, and will not do so again until 2285. It fell on March 23 in 2008, but will not do so again until 2160. Easter last fell on the latest possible date, April 25, in 1943 and will next fall on that date in 2038. However, it will fall on April 24, just one day before this latest possible date, in 2011.
The cycle of Easter dates repeats after exactly 5,700,000 years, with April 19 being the most common date, happening 220,400 times, or 3.9% compared to a median for all dates of 189,525 times, or 3.3%.
Reform of the date of Easter
At a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced an equation-based method of calculating Easter with direct astronomical observation; this would have side-stepped the calendar issue and eliminated the difference in date between the Eastern and Western churches. The reform was proposed for implementation starting in 2001, but it was not ultimately adopted by any member body.
A few clergymen of various denominations have advanced the notion of disregarding the moon altogether in determining the date of Easter. Their proposals include always observing Easter on the second Sunday in April, or always having seven Sundays between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, producing the same result except that in leap years Easter could fall on April 7. These suggestions have not attracted significant support, and their adoption in the future is considered unlikely.
In the United Kingdom, the Easter Act of 1928 set out legislation to allow the date of Easter to be fixed as the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April. However, the legislation has not been implemented, although it remains on the Statute book and could be implemented subject to approval by the various Christian churches.
Position in the church year
In Western Christianity, Easter marks the end of the forty days of Lent, a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter which begins on Ash Wednesday.
The week before Easter is very special in the Christian tradition. The Sunday before Easter is Palm Sunday and the last three days before Easter are Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as Silent Saturday). Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively commemorate Jesus' entry in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are sometimes referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for "Three Days"). In some countries, Easter lasts two days, with the second called " Easter Monday." The week beginning with Easter Sunday is called Easter Week or the Octave of Easter, and each day is prefaced with "Easter," e.g. Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday, etc. Easter Saturday is therefore the Saturday after Easter Sunday. The day before Easter is properly called Holy Saturday. Many churches start celebrating Easter late in the evening of Holy Saturday at a service called the Easter Vigil.
Eastertide, the season of Easter, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts until the day of Pentecost, seven weeks later.
In Eastern Christianity, preparations begin with Great Lent, which lasts for 40 days. Following the fifth Sunday of Great Lent is Palm Week, which ends with Lazarus Saturday. Lazarus Saturday officially brings Great Lent to a close, although the fast continues for the following week. After Lazarus Saturday comes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Easter itself, or Pascha (Πάσχα), and the fast is broken immediately after the Divine Liturgy. Easter is immediately followed by Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday.
The Paschal Service consists of Paschal Matins, Hours, and Liturgy, which traditionally begins at midnight of Pascha morning. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning, ensuring its place as the pre-eminent "Feast of Feasts" in the liturgical year.
Religious observance of Easter
The Easter festival is kept in many different ways among Western Christians. The traditional, liturgical observation of Easter, as practised among Roman Catholics and some Lutherans and Anglicans begins on the night of Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil. This, the most important liturgy of the year, begins in total darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, the lighting of the large Paschal candle (symbolic of the Risen Christ) and the chanting of the Exultet or Easter Proclamation attributed to Saint Ambrose of Milan. After this service of light, a number of readings from the Old Testament are read; these tell the stories of creation, the sacrifice of Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the foretold coming of the Messiah. This part of the service climaxes with the singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia and the proclamation of the Gospel of the resurrection. A sermon may be preached after the gospel. Then the focus moves from the lectern to the font. Anciently, Easter was considered the most perfect time to receive baptism, and this practice is alive in Roman Catholicism, as it is the time when new members are initiated into the Church, and it is being revived in some other circles. Whether there are baptisms at this point or not, it is traditional for the congregation to renew the vows of their baptismal faith. This act is often sealed by the sprinkling of the congregation with holy water from the font. The Catholic sacrament of Confirmation is also celebrated at the Vigil.
The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist (or 'Holy Communion'). Certain variations in the Easter Vigil exist: Some churches read the Old Testament lessons before the procession of the Paschal candle, and then read the gospel immediately after the Exsultet. Some churches prefer to keep this vigil very early on the Sunday morning instead of the Saturday night, particularly Protestant churches, to reflect the gospel account of the women coming to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. These services are known as the Sunrise service and often occur in outdoor setting such as the church's yard or a nearby park.
The first recorded "Sunrise Service" took place in 1732 among the Single Brethren in the Moravian Congregation at Herrnhut, Saxony, in what is now Germany. Following an all-night vigil they went before dawn to the town graveyard, God's Acre, on the hill above the town, to celebrate the Resurrection among the graves of the departed. This service was repeated the following year by the whole congregation and subsequently spread with the Moravian Missionaries around the world. The most famous "Moravian Sunrise Service" is in the Moravian Settlement Old Salem in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The beautiful setting of the Graveyard, God's Acre, the music of the Brass Choir numbering 500 pieces, and the simplicity of the service attract thousands of visitors each year and has earned for Winston-Salem the soubriquet "the Easter City."
Additional celebrations are usually offered on Easter Sunday itself. Typically these services follow the usual order of Sunday services in a congregation, but also typically incorporate more highly festive elements. The music of the service, in particular, often displays a highly festive tone; the incorporation of brass instruments (trumpets, etc.) to supplement a congregation's usual instrumentation is common. Often a congregation's worship space is decorated with special banners and flowers (such as Easter lilies).
In predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, the morning of Easter (known in the national language as "Pasko ng Muling Pagkabuhay" or the Pasch of the Resurrection) is marked with joyous celebration, the first being the dawn "Salubong," wherein large statues of Jesus and Mary are brought together to meet, imagining the first reunion of Jesus and his mother Mary after Jesus' Resurrection. This is followed by the joyous Easter Mass.
In Polish culture, The Rezurekcja (Resurrection Procession) is the joyous Easter morning Mass at daybreak when church bells ring out and explosions resound to commemorate Christ rising from the dead. Before the Mass begins at dawn, a festive procession with the Blessed Sacrament carried beneath a canopy encircles the church. As church bells ring out, handbells are vigorously shaken by altar boys, the air is filled with incense and the faithful raise their voices heavenward in a triumphant rendering of age-old Easter hymns. After the Blessed Sacrament is carried around the church and Adoration is complete, the Easter Mass begins. Another Polish Easter tradition is Święconka, the blessing of Easter baskets by the parish priest on Holy Saturday. This custom is celebrated not only in Poland, but also in the United States by Polish-Americans.
Pascha is the fundamental and most important festival of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. Every other religious festival on their calendars, including Christmas, is secondary in importance to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is reflected rich Easter-connected customs in the cultures of countries that are traditionally Orthodox Christian majority. Eastern Catholics have similar emphasis in their calendars, and many of their liturgical customs are very similar.
This is not to say that Christmas and other elements of the Christian liturgical calendar are ignored. Instead, these events are all seen as necessary but preliminary to the full climax of the Resurrection, in which all that has come before reaches fulfilment and fruition. They shine only in the light of the Resurrection. Pascha (Easter) is the primary act that fulfils the purpose of Christ's ministry on earth—to defeat death by dying and to purify and exalt humanity by voluntarily assuming and overcoming human frailty. This is succinctly summarized by the Paschal troparion, sung repeatedly during Pascha until the Apodosis of Pascha, which is the day before Ascension:
- Christ is risen from the dead,
- Trampling down death by death,
- And upon those in the tombs
- Bestowing life!
- Trampling down death by death,
Preparation for Pascha begins with the season of Great Lent. In addition to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, Orthodox Christians cut down on all entertainment and non-essential worldly activities, gradually eliminating them until Great and Holy Friday. Traditionally, on the evening of Great and Holy Saturday, the Midnight Office is celebrated shortly after 11:00 pm (see Paschal Vigil). At its completion all light in the church building is extinguished. A new flame is struck in the altar, or the priest lights his candle from a perpetual lamp kept burning there, and he then lights candles held by deacons or other assistants, who then go to light candles held by the congregation. Then the priest and congregation process around the church building, holding lit candles, re-entering ideally at the stroke of midnight, whereupon Paschal Matins begins immediately followed by the Paschal Hours and then the Paschal Divine Liturgy. Immediately after the Liturgy it is customary for the congregation to share a meal, essentially an Agápē dinner (albeit at 2:00 a.m. or later). In Greece the traditional latenight dinner is mageiritsa, a hearty stew of chopped lamb liver and wild greens seasoned with egg-and-lemon sauce. Traditionally, Easter eggs, hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolize the spilt Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of the Tomb of Christ.
The day after, Easter Sunday proper, there is no liturgy, since the liturgy for that day has already been celebrated. Instead, in the afternoon, it is often traditional to celebrate " Agápē Vespers". In this service, it has become customary during the last few centuries for the priest and members of the congregation to read a portion of the Gospel of John (20:19–25 or 19–31) in as many languages as they can manage.
For the remainder of the week (known as " Bright Week"), all fasting is prohibited, and the customary Paschal greeting is "Christ is risen!," to be responded with "Truly He is risen!"
Non-religious Easter traditions
As with many other Christian dates, the celebration of Easter extends beyond the church. Since its origins, it has been a time of celebration and feasting. Today it is commercially important, seeing wide sales of greeting cards and confectionery such as chocolate Easter eggs, marshmallow bunnies, Peeps, and jelly beans. Even many non-Christians celebrate these aspects of the holiday while eschewing the religious aspects.
Throughout North America, Australia and parts of the UK, the Easter holiday has been partially secularized, so that some families participate only in the attendant revelry, central to which is (traditionally) decorating Easter eggs on Saturday evening and hunting for them Sunday morning, by which time they have been mysteriously hidden all over the house and garden. Chocolate eggs have largely supplanted decorated eggs in Australia.
In North America, eggs and other treats are delivered and hidden by the Easter Bunny in an Easter basket which children find waiting for them when they wake up. Many families in America will attend Sunday Mass or services in the morning and then participate in a feast or party in the afternoon.
In the UK children still paint colored eggs, but most British people simply exchange chocolate eggs on the Sunday. Chocolate Easter Bunnies can be found in shops, but the idea is considered primarily a US import. Many families have a traditional Sunday roast, particularly roast lamb, and eat foods like Simnel cake, a fruit cake with eleven marzipan balls representing the eleven faithful apostles. Hot cross buns, spiced buns with a cross on top, are traditionally associated with Good Friday, but today are eaten through Holy Week and the Easter period. In the north of England and the north of Ireland, the tradition of rolling decorated eggs down steep hills is still adhered to.
In the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, the most notable feature of the Easter celebration is the flying of kites to symbolize Christ's ascent. Traditional Bermuda kites are constructed by Bermudians of all ages as Easter approaches, and are normally only flown at Easter. In addition to hot cross buns and Easter eggs, fish cakes are traditionally eaten in Bermuda at this time.
Belgium & France
Flemish-speaking Belgium shares many of the same traditions as North America but sometimes it's said that the Bells of Rome bring the Easter eggs together with the Easter Bunny. The story goes that the bells of every church leave for Rome on Holy Saturday, called "Stille Zaterdag" (literally "Silent Saturday") in Dutch. So, because the bells are in Rome, the bells don't ring anywhere.
Similarly, in French-speaking Belgium and France, "Easter bells" (« les cloches de Pâques ») also bring Easter eggs. However, bells in churches are silent beginning Maundy Thursday, the first day of the Paschal Triduum, as a sign of mourning. It is said that all of the bells depart for Rome and return on Easter Day bringing eggs with them to drop during their passage.
In Norway, in addition to cross-country skiing in the mountains and painting eggs for decorating, a contemporary tradition is to solve murder mysteries at Easter. All the major television channels show crime and detective stories (such as Agatha Christie's Poirot), magazines print stories where the readers can try to figure out who did it, and many new books are published. Even the milk cartons change to have murder stories on their sides. Another tradition is Yahtzee games.
In Finland, Sweden and Denmark, traditions include egg painting and small children dressed as witches collecting candy door-to-door, in exchange for decorated pussy willows. This is a result of the mixing of an old Orthodox tradition (blessing houses with willow branches) and the Scandinavian Easter witch tradition. Brightly coloured feathers and little decorations are also attached to birch branches in a vase. For lunch/dinner on Holy Saturday, families traditionally feast on a smörgåsbord of herring, salmon, potatoes, eggs and other kinds of food. In Finland, the Lutheran majority enjoys mämmi as another traditional Easter treat, while the Orthodox minority's traditions include eating pasha (also spelt paskha) instead.
Netherlands and Northern Germany
In the eastern part of the Netherlands (Twente and Achterhoek), Easter Fires (in Dutch: "Paasvuur") are lit on Easter Day at sunset. Easter Fires also take place on the same day in large portions of Northern Germany ("Osterfeuer").
Many eastern European ethnic groups, including the Ukrainians, Belarusians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Croats ( pisanica), Czechs, Lithuanians, Poles, Romanians, Slovaks, and Slovenians decorate eggs for Easter.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a tradition of spanking or whipping is carried out on Easter Monday. In the morning, men spank women with a special handmade whip called a pomlázka (in Czech) or korbáč (in Slovak), or, in eastern Moravia and Slovakia, throw cold water on them. The pomlázka/korbáč consists of eight, twelve or even twenty-four withies (willow rods), is usually from half a meter to two meters long and decorated with colored ribbons at the end. The spanking normally is not painful or intended to cause suffering. A legend says that women should be spanked in order to keep their health and beauty during whole next year.
An additional purpose can be for men to exhibit their attraction to women; unvisited women can even feel offended. Traditionally, the spanked woman gives a colored egg and sometimes a small amount of money to the man as a sign of her thanks. In some regions the women can get revenge in the afternoon or the following day when they can pour a bucket of cold water on any man. The habit slightly varies across Slovakia and the Czech Republic. A similar tradition existed in Poland (where it is called Dyngus Day), but it is now little more than an all-day water fight.
In Hungary, Transylvania, Southern Slovakia, Kárpátalja, Vojvodina and other territories with Hungarian-speaking commmunities, the day following Easter is called Locsoló Hétfő, " Ducking Monday". Water, perfume or perfumed water is often sprinkled in exchange for an Easter egg.
Christian denominations and organizations that do not observe Easter
Easter traditions deemed "pagan" by some Reformation leaders, along with Christmas celebrations, were among the first casualties of some areas of the Protestant Reformation.
Other Reformation Churches, such as the Lutheran and Anglican, retained a very full observance of the Church Year. In Lutheran Churches, not only were the days of Holy Week observed, but also Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost were observed with three day festivals, including the day itself and the two following. Among the other Reformation traditions, things were a bit different. These holidays were eventually restored (though Christmas only became a legal holiday in Scotland in 1967, after the Church of Scotland finally relaxed its objections). Some Christians (usually, but not always fundamentalists), however, continue to reject the celebration of Easter (and, often, of Christmas), because they believe them to be irrevocably tainted with paganism and idolatry. Their rejection of these traditions is based partly on their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6:14-16.
This is also the view of Jehovah's Witnesses, who instead observe a yearly commemorative service of the Last Supper and subsequent death of Christ on the evening of 14 Nisan, as they calculate it derived from the lunar Hebrew Calendar. It is commonly referred to, in short, by many Witnesses as simply "The Memorial." Jehovah's Witnesses believe that such verses as Luke 22:19-20 constitute a commandment to remember the death of Christ, and they do so on a yearly basis just as Passover is celebrated yearly by the Jews.
Some groups feel that Easter (or, as they prefer to call it, "Resurrection Sunday" or "Resurrection Day") is properly regarded with great joy: not marking the day itself, but remembering and rejoicing in the event it commemorates—the miracle of Christ's resurrection. In this spirit, these Christians teach that each day and all Sabbaths should be kept holy, in Christ's teachings. Hebrew-Christian, Sacred Name, and Armstrong movement churches (such as the Living Church of God) usually reject Easter in favour of 14 Nisan observance and celebration of the Christian Passover. This is especially true of Christian groups that celebrate the New Moons or High Holy Days (annual sabbaths) is addition to the seventh day sabbath. Critics charge that such feasts are meaningless in light of the end of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Televangelist Larry Huch (pentecostal) and many Calvary Chapel churches have adopted Hebrew-Christian practices, but without rejecting Easter.
Other groups, such as the Sabbatarian Church of God celebrate a Christian Passover that lacks most of the practices or symbols associated with Western Easter and retains more of the presumed features of the Passover observed by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.
Modern avoidance controversy
In the modern-day United States, there have been instances where public mention of Easter and Good Friday have been replaced with euphemistic terminology. Examples include renaming "Good Friday" as "Spring holiday" on school calendars, to avoid association with a Christian holiday while at the same time allowing a state-sanctioned day off.