Despite the controversy that exists among Christians regarding Easter celebrations, the event remains an important occasion in the Christian calendar. The controversy relates to whether Goo instructed humankind to celebrate Easter or not. However, there is a general agreement among theologians that Easter games and traditions were adopted from paganism and Christianized over many centuries (Pack 8-11; McDougall guardian.com). This paper will trace the origins of Easter, and its practices, connect Easter festivities with the Christian tradition and reveal the relevance of these practices to the contemporary Christian world.
Easter is a solemn event conducted every year to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ following His crucifixion by the Roman soldiers in Calvary. The resurrection took place on a Sunday, three days after the crucifixion. One of the major themes of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ came to the world to die for humankind's sins and offer redemption to a people cut out from God (Pack 12).The hope of eternal life motivated some women disciples to visit the tomb where Jesus after the crucifixion on the first Sunday after His crucifixion .On arrival at the tomb, they found that He had been raised from the dead. This finding turned their grief into celebrations. It is upon these celebrations that the Easter Holiday was founded to mark the fulfillment of God's promise to restore humankind from sin. It is important to note that Easter comes at different times for Eastern and Western cultures due to differences in their year calendars (Morrill 9).
The Church began marking Easter in 325 AD following a meeting of leaders of the Roman Catholic Church who resolved that the Church needed to commemorate the day Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Since they did not know the specific day of the resurrection, the leaders, with the help of astronomers, settled on the "Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox"(p.5). Based on this criterion, the leaders noted that the spring equinox fell on March 20 in 325.They adopted this date and made it official that Easter will henceforth be scheduled on the first Sunday after March 20 following an ecclesiastical full moon. This explains the differences in periods of observance of Easter between Eastern and Western cultures (Morrill 5-6).
Despite the specificity of the resurrection day, Easter is marked by a series of activities that end on Holy Saturday, a day before Easter Sunday. These activities are meant to usher in the holy Sunday. It is a period in which various religious activities take place to usher in Easter Sunday. This period of preliminary activities is known as Lent. The Lent is meant to symbolically prepare the Christian faithful for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent takes place for forty days which symbolizes the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert while praying in preparation for his trial in the then Rome-occupied Jerusalem (Morrill 4-8; Foster 140). Whereas Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday to mark the Resurrection, Lent chronicles the events leading to the crucifixion and eventual Resurrection.
A critical element of Lent period is fasting and abstinence. Christians are expected to reflect on Jesus' suffering and repent their sins while fasting from both food and festivities (Foster 138). During Lent, fasters abstain from dairy products, meat, and eggs every day. Additionally, the fasters avoid olive oil on all weekdays and also refrain from fish consumption every day a part of March 25th and Palm Sunday (Trepanowski and Bloomer 5).As recorded by Morrill, Palm Sunday symbolizes the day Jesus and his disciples entered the city of Jerusalem where the Jewish were gathered to celebrate the Passover. Those that believed he was the anointed king of the Jewish people welcomed him by waving fronds of palm trees and also spread a carpet of palm branches on his path (7).
Lent is meant to prepare Christians for the resurrection celebrations. This period is considered a somber mood in the Christian calendar because it represents the period in which Jesus experienced many trials and tribulations to save mankind. In the book of Mathew, it has been recorded that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to face temptations from Satan. While in the wilderness, he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. As a result, he became very hungry (4:1-2). Additionally, Jesus' trial, conviction, and crucifixion by Roman soldiers entailed a painful experience. This pain was meant to fulfill the prophecy as the redeemer of man (Morrill 8). Therefore, Lent is a somber period because it commemorates the pain and suffering Jesus underwent to save mankind from eternal death.
Christians give up foods they enjoy to put themselves in the situation that Jesus underwent during trial and crucifixion. Easter symbolizes the time Jesus left his comfort in heaven to save mankind from eternal destruction. By giving up their foods, Christians seek to acknowledge the pain Jesus went through to guarantee their redemption (Morrill 4-8). Overly, the practice of giving up some foods enables Christians to commiserate with Jesus for the suffering he underwent to secure their redemption.
Fasting entails partial or full abstinence from all foods or a selected type of foods (Trepanowski and Bloomer 1). Although fasting involves a moment of self-denial, it also symbolizes redemption. Jesus fasted to prepare himself for trial by the evil. This paved the way for his crucifixion, a sacrifice that redeemed humankind (Morrill 4-9). It is a celebratory moment in the sense that Jesus died and rose from the dead to ensure that mankind got a chance once again to inherit the Kingdom of God
From a religious standpoint, Easter Holidays are celebrations of rebirth. In the book of John, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again for him to have eternal life. Jesus clarifies to Nicodemus that to be born again does not mean getting into his mother's womb and getting born the second time; rather, it means to born of water and Spirit (3:1-15).In context, the Easter celebrations symbolize the change of Jesus from a human form after death to Divine(Martin). It is a rebirth in the sense that it represents renewal and mankind's new covenant with God through Jesus Christ.
Easter is associated with spring due to its symbolic meaning of renewal. In the Northern Hemisphere, spring is that season of the year that when vitality returns to the land after a difficult season of winter. In literal terms, it is that time of the year during which vegetation and other forms of nature regenerate after the deadly experience of winter. Since human beings do not regenerate nor rise after death, ancient peoples conducted rituals to bind human fates with the cycle of nature that naturally undergoes renewal after winter (Cave guardian.com). These practices were subsequently adopted into the Christian doctrines.
Some of the well-known Easter symbols of all over the world are eggs, the cross, and rabbits (bunny). In pre-Christian times of Europe, eggs were regarded a symbol of a new life or regeneration. In the contemporary Christian world, it represents the rock tomb out of which Jesus Christ resurrected (Pack 11). The egg, denoted as the rock tomb, gave way to the rise of Jesus from dead. That is to say, it is the egg that actualized Resurrection.
The bunny is cherished because of the belief that it is the producer of eggs. The eggs, as indicated above, symbolize renewal in the context of Jesus' resurrection. Although they do not lay eggs, their rapid rate of production symbolizes fertility that brings new life necessary for the perpetuation of the existence of humanity (Pack 11).
The cross is a symbol of the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Over the years, the cross has become a major symbol of Easter to represent God's intervention (through Jesus) to give a new lease of life to humankind (American Bible Society, 2018). The cross underscores Jesus' victory over death and sin.
Easter customs demonstrate playfulness through the various activities carried out during this event. In some countries, children are given chocolate eggs -which are often cream-filled. In the United States, Egg-rolling is done by children, and this happens as an official function at the White House on the Monday after Easter Sunday (Laderman and Leon 605). It is a common practice for eggs to be colored in different and beautiful ways. In some cultures, eggs are often painted in colors and then given away during Easter. Others engage in egg hunt; a playful exercise where adults hide painted eggs for children to locate them (Pack 10; Laderman and Leon 604-07).
Easter is a period of commensality due to nature of the activities done in the period. Foods eaten during Easter revolve around eggs and bread though the type of food varies from one region of the world to another. Foods such as chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits, honey, hot-cross buns, and cheese are shared or given away (Fieldhouse 158; Laderman and Leon 605). Put simply, people meet to share meals and engage in fun activities to celebrate their redemption by the death of Jesus on the cross.
American Bible Society. "Easter Symbols." American Bible Society Resources, 2018, bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/easter-symbols.
Cave, Stephen. "Easter and spring rites remind us how life triumphs over death." The Guardian, [London], 8 Apr. 2012.
Fieldhouse, Paul. Food, Feasts, and Faith: An Encyclopedia of Food Culture in World Religions. ABC-CLIO, 2017.
Foster, David. The Catholic Prayerbook: From Downside Abbey. Burns & Oates, 2006.
Laderman, Gary, and Luis D. Leon. Religion and American Cultures: An Encyclopedia of Traditions, Diversity, and Popular Expressions. ABC-CLIO, 2003.
Martin, James. "The Challenge of Easter." The Wall Street Journal, 26 Mar. 2016, www.wsj.com/articles/the-challenge-of-easter-1458916153.
McDougall, Heather. "The Pagan Roots of Easter." The Guardian, [London], 3 Apr. 2010.
Morrill, Ann. Easter, Passover, and Other Spring Festivals. Chelsea House, 2009.
Trepanowski, John F., and Richard J. Bloomer. "The impact of religious fasting on human health." Nutrition Journal, vol. 9, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1-9.
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