The Origins and Practices of Holidays: Easter

April 21 & 28, 2019 - Easter

Easter is a Christian holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter takes place three days after Jesus’s death on Good Friday. This holiday concludes the “Passion of Christ” series of holidays that began with Ash Wednesday. The last week of this series is called Holy Week, and it includes Holy Thursday (celebration of the Last Supper), Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.

For Catholics, this day is a Holy Day of Obligation, meaning that Catholics must attend Mass at church. Easter is one of the two Christian holidays that most Christians attend at church. There are many Christian families who do not attend church regularly, but do attend “for Christmas and Easter.” Those two holidays are considered to be the two most important Christian holidays.

Some common traditions for families celebrating Easter are: decorating Easter eggs with paint or dye, hunting for Easter eggs, eating chocolate eggs & bunnies, and eating a traditional Easter meal. This meal often includes deviled eggs, ham or lamb, and carrots.

Some Easter traditions are not closely associated with the religious aspects of the holiday, but are common symbols of spring. One example is the Easter bunny. The origins of the Easter Bunny as a figure that delivers candy and chocolate eggs to children for Easter are unknown. However, rabbits are often associated with this time of year as many rabbits pop up during spring. In addition, many baby bunnies are born in spring. Some Protestant Christian denominations, including Lutherans and Quakers, do not observe many Easter traditions, since they have less to do with the religious aspects of the holiday.

Egg dyeing, a popular Easter activity, may have become a tradition due to its role in the Easter story:

According to legend, after Jesus was resurrected, Mary Magdalene, a devout follower, went to visit the Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome. She brought with her, an egg, to illustrate that Jesus had been resurrected (like an egg hatching). She held out the egg in her hand and said, “Christ is risen!” The Emperor replied that Christ has no more risen than the egg in her hand was red. Upon saying those words, the egg in Mary’s hand turned red as a sign from God that her message was true. This may be how the tradition of decorating eggs started.

In Western churches, Easter always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. Eastern Orthodox churches follow a different calendar, and for them, Easter falls on a Sunday between April 4 and May 8 each year. This year, Orthodox Easter falls on April 28.

Orthodox Easter Traditions

It is customary for Orthodox Christians to greet one another on Easter with “Christ is Risen!” The response to this greeting is “Truly; He is Risen!” Orthodox Christians also use eggs as symbols, but they typically only dye them red. The red dye is to symbolize the blood of Jesus that was shed as he died (or possibly because of the earlier story with Mary Magdalene).

There is some variation in how Orthodox Christians celebrate, depending on their culture. For instance, Greek Orthodox Christians usually break their Lenten fast after the midnight Resurrection Service. Their feast often includes lamb, and a sweet Easter dessert bread, called Tsoureki Paschalino.

Serbian Orthodox families traditionally break their fast after the Easter Sunday services. They often consume appetizers with smoked meats, cheese, boiled eggs, and red wine. The main meal often includes either a chicken noodle or lamb vegetable soup. The soup is followed by a spit-roasted lamb.

For Russian Orthodox Christians, Holy Saturday (the day before) is a day of strict fasting. During this day, the families prepare for the Easter meal. They will break their fast after midnight mass with a traditional Paska Easter bread cake.

Connect with Easter with these items:

The Easter Story

Easter Stories

Lent, Holy Week, Easter: A Catholic's Guide - Season 1

Orthodox Chants for Lent and Easter