The Traditions of Easter
Since its started 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 very funny 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 secret manner.
It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to celebrate their holy days with ceremonies that did not match 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.
The Date of Easter
Before 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 spring equinox. However, a limitation must be introduced here. The “full moon” in the rule is the church full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the church New Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as the astronomical full moon. The church “spring equinox” is always on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25.
The Lenten Season
Connected with the observance of Easter are the 40-day penitential season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and closing at midnight on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. In many churches Easter is preceded by a season of prayer, abstinence, and fasting. This is observed in memory of the 40 days’ fast of Christ in the desert. In Eastern Orthodox churches Lent is 50 days. In Western Christendom Lent is observed for six weeks and four days.
Lent may be preceded by a carnival season. The origin of the word carnival is probably from the Latin carne vale, meaning flesh (meat), farewell. Carefully prepared feast often close this season on Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent. This day is also called by its French name, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). It was designed as a way to “get it all out” before the sacrifices of Lent began
Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, gets its name from the practice, mainly in the Roman Catholic church, of putting ashes on the foreheads of the faithful to remind them that man is but dust.
The Cross is the symbol of the Crucifixion, as opposed to the Resurrection. However, at the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325, Constantine decreed that the Cross was the official symbol of Christianity. The Cross is not only a symbol of Easter, but it is more widely used, especially by the Catholic Church, as a year-round symbol of their faith.
The Easter Bunny
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 rabbit.
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.
The white lily, the symbol of the rebirth, is the special Easter flower. White color is the liturgical color of Easter and suggesting light, purity, and joy.
The Easter Egg
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. They were used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts. Easter Monday egg rolling, a custom of European, has become a tradition on the lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. During the Octave of Easter in early Christian times.
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.