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Holiday Insight: Easter

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General Information

Whether observed on a religious or secular level, Easter is a celebration of new life. Arriving with the new blossoms and longer days of spring, the holiday has roots in both Judeo-Christian and Pagan traditions. Christians dress in new clothes and attend religious services to commemorate the most significant event in their history, the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Christians and non-Christians celebrate spring by gathering with family and friends for a meal.

In America, England, Australia and a few other countries, children enjoy hunting for Easter eggs. In other parts of Europe, eggs are exchanged as gifts along with other goodies. Around the world, homes are decorated with flowers and other symbols of spring.

History of Easter

Though celebrated earlier, Easter was officially recognized as a Christian holiday in 325 A.D. At the time, it was one of only two holy days (holidays) observed by Christians; the other was the Feast of Pentecost. Easter is celebrated at about the same time as Passover, the Jewish feast that celebrates the story from the book of Exodus in which the angel of death "passed over" the homes of Jews who had marked their doorways with the blood of sacrificed animals.

According to Christians, Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration when he was crucified and then rose from the dead three days later. Since the ancient Jews followed a Pagan calendar, the Passover celebration coincided with Pagan celebrations around the time of the spring equinox, which occurs each year on March 20, 21 or 22. The Christian celebration of Easter is also borrowed in part from these Pagan rituals, which celebrated the same theme of death and resurrection as Easter.

The name Easter comes from the name of the Saxon Mother Goddess Eostre, whose name is derived from an ancient word for spring. Modern secular symbols of Easter - baby bunnies, baby chicks, eggs and new flowers - reflect the coming of spring. Perhaps the most beloved symbol of Easter, the Easter Bunny, has been an icon of Easter since at least the 1500's, where the first documented use of a rabbit as an Easter symbol appeared in Germany. The Pennsylvania Dutch brought the Easter Bunny to America in the 1700's, and the first edible Easter Bunnies date back to the 1800's when they were first made in Germany. The rabbit is long-revered in many cultures as a sacred messenger, and the idea of using a rabbit as an Easter symbol is a natural blend of its connection to the divine and the Pagan view of the rabbit as a symbol of fertility and new life.

Other Easter symbols, like the cross and the lamb have religious significance related to the renewal of faith. Both the cross and the lamb reflect the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the Paschal (Easter) Lamb. In the Jewish tradition, lambs were sacrificial animals.

Date of Celebration

In the West, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal (spring) equinox of the modern Gregorian calendar. Eastern Christians continue to use the vernal equinox of the Julian calendar of the Roman Empire to date Easter. The following chart shows the dates for Easter through 2010.

WesternMarch 27April 16April 8March 23April 12April 4
EasternMay 1April 23April 8April 27April 19April 4
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