- Easter is a holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Easter is viewed as the origin of Christianity and as the religion’s biggest holiday.
- The Easter Bunny and eggs are common symbols for the holidays as well, but they have religious roots.
Gather up those eggshells and get that picture of the Easter Bunny with the kids, as millions of people around the world prepare to celebrate Easter on Sunday.
Like Christmas, Easter is rooted in Christianity, a holiday meant to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after he was crucified by Romans in 30 AD Over 2,000 years later, Easter remains one of the most celebrated holidays.
Nowadays, Easter is commonly associated with decorating eggs or participating in egg hunts, as well as the Easter Bunny. But similar to Santa Claus, those symbols have some religious ties mixed in with the more commercialized holiday many of us see today.
“It’s the church’s highest feast, because, without it, there will be no church,” Ulrich Lehner, theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, told USA TODAY.
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How did Easter become a holiday?
The story of Christ’s resurrection is the “foundation of their faith” for early Christians, Nadieszda Kizenko, director of religious studies at the University at Albany, told USA TODAY.
But when and how the holiday would be varied observed across different regions. It wasn’t until the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, when Christian bishops first met in the then Greek city, that an agreement of when to observe Easter was reached.
The decision: celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal, or spring, equinox. Since the equinox usually occurs on March 20-21, Easter can fall on any Sunday from March 22 to April 25.
“It’s not like Christmas. Easter is a moveable feast,” Kizenko said.
‘Biggest day of the church calendar’
Of all Christian holidays, Kizenko says Easter is the “biggest day of the church calendar” because of the message it represents.
“The birth of Jesus in itself was not a momentous occasion to the rest of the world because his ministry only became obvious when he became a grown-up,” she said. “Easter basically means the triumph over death.”
Easter mass also happens to be one of the longest sessions of the Catholic mass. For some, the Easter Vigil begins after sunset on Saturday night or early Sunday morning into the sunrise of Easter. With more readings, songs and rituals, mass can be anywhere from two to three hours.
How did the Easter Bunny and eggs become Easter symbols?
The bunny symbol predates Christianity, Lehner said. There is no definitive origin of the symbolism, but one of the earliest origins comes from pagan tradition when it symbolized fertility. It later became a German folklore that made its way into the United State in the late-18th century.
Easter isn’t when Christ was born, but Lehner said it represents the meaning of the holiday.
“Fertility means new life. Well, in Christianity, you have this new life in Easter. It’s a symbol that’s good and imaginative and in people’s memory,” he said.
Eggs have a similar message. If you look at an egg for the first time, you might not expect an animal to come out of it, alluding to the unexpected resurrection of Christ. Nadeszda said the dyeing eggs also dates back to the ancient Middle East when people used onion skins to color them.
Nadeszda added eggs were also decorated because of their importance. In the early days of Lent, the time period of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter, meat was given up, as well as dairy products. So people would prepare their eggs for when they could finally eat them.
“Being able to eat eggs once again was a really big deal. That’s when people started the custom of decorating eggs,” Nadieszda said. “After seven weeks of not eating meat or dairy, you feel like Superman.”
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Are Easter celebrations different in the United States vs. the rest of the world?
The biggest difference between Easter celebrations in the US compared to other parts of the world is the commercialization of it, similar to Christmas, Ulrich and Nadieszda said.
Nadeszda added even though Easter is a more pivotal moment than Christmas in the church, she says the reason why Christmas is a bigger deal in the US is because gifts aren’t normally exchanged and the idea of celebrating someone after they died.
“Even though yes, it’s followed by resurrection, it’s more intense in a more specific thing. In a way, Christmas is somehow more generic because everyone can understand being happy at the birth of a child,” Nadieszda said. “The idea of death and resurrection is something that’s much more complicated.”
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism