Easter is a time of springtime festivals
held sometime between March 22 and April 25. Easter is celebrated
as the religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus
Christ, the son of God.
As with almost all "Christian" holidays, Easter has been
secularized and commercialized. The dichotomous nature of Easter
and its symbols, however, is not necessarily a modern fabrication.
Since its conception as a holy celebration
in the second century, Easter has had its non-religious side. In
fact, Easter was originally a pagan festival.
The ancient Saxons celebrated the return
of spring with an uproarious festival commemorating their goddess
of offspring and of springtime, Eastre. When the second-century
Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the north with
their pagan celebrations, they attempted to convert them to Christianity.
They did so, however, in a clandestine manner.
It would have been suicide for the very
early Christian converts to celebrate their holy days with observances
that did not coincide with celebrations that already existed. To
save lives, the missionaries cleverly decided to spread their religious
message slowly throughout the populations by allowing them to continue
to celebrate pagan feasts, but to do so in a Christian manner.
As it happened, the pagan festival of Eastre
occurred at the same time of year as the Christian observance of
the Resurrection of Christ. It made sense, therefore, to alter the
festival itself, to make it a Christian celebration as converts
were slowly won over. The early name, Eastre, was eventually changed
to its modern spelling, Easter.
Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was variously
celebrated on different days of the week, including Friday, Saturday,
and Sunday. In that year, the Council of Nicaea was convened by
emperor Constantine. It issued the Easter Rule which states that
Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after
the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. However, a caveat
must be introduced here.
The "full moon" in the rule is
the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth
day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the ecclesiastical
New Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as the astronomical
full moon. The ecclesiastical "vernal equinox" is always
on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between
the dates of March 22 and April 25.
Lent is the forty-six day period just prior
to Easter Sunday. It begins on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras (French
for "Fat Tuesday") is a celebration, sometimes called
"Carnival," practiced around the world, on the Tuesday
prior to Ash Wednesday. It was designed as a way to "get it
all out" before the sacrifices of Lent began. New Orleans is
the focal point of Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. Read about
the religious meanings of the Lenten Season.
The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention.
The symbol originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess,
Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol,
The Germans brought the symbol of the Easter
rabbit to America. It was widely ignored by other Christians until
shortly after the Civil War. In fact, Easter itself was not widely
celebrated in America until after that time.
As with the Easter Bunny and the holiday
itself, the Easter Egg predates the Christian holiday of Easter.
The exchange of eggs in the springtime is a custom that was centuries
old when Easter was first celebrated by Christians.
From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol
of rebirth in most cultures. Eggs were often wrapped in gold leaf
or, if you were a peasant, colored brightly by boiling them with
the leaves or petals of certain flowers.
Today, children hunt colored eggs and place
them in Easter baskets along with the modern version of real Easter
eggs -- those made of plastic or chocolate candy.