It is one of the most beloved and anticipated holidays of the year. With giant chocolate bunnies, litters of pastel eggs hidden in the backyard, and the fresh scent of spring in the air, who wouldn’t be excited for Easter to finally arrive?
Even though it has long been established as part of American culture as a fun way to welcome the spring season, it is more so celebrated by those in the Christian and Catholic faith, making it a notable religious holiday. So how can one holiday be observed by both the religious and non-religious? It comes from the origin of the actual celebration itself.
Although noted for its strong religious affiliation, Easter actually first derived from ancient pagans—more specifically a celebration every year of Eostre, the goddess of fertility and spring. Eostre’s symbol was the rabbit, which represented fertility, and also the exchange of eggs among the people represented life being renewed. In fact, this pagan goddess was referred to by many names by different cultures, including Greece, Egypt, India, and even Babylon. Then in 325 A.D., the Christian church took the ancient pagan holiday and transformed it from a celebration on the spring season to a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And as the ultimate act of rebirth and a new beginning, Jesus being crucified on the cross and then rising from the dead is a reason for believers to celebrate the Easter holiday every year. This can be found in the 4 Gospels in Matthew 27:27-28:8, Mark 15:16-16:19, Luke 23:26-24:35, John 19:16-20:30. Depending on the different denominations, each has their own distinct way of celebrating but the most formal traditional way is through Catholicism. For Catholics, and some Protestant denominations, the celebration actually starts 40 days prior to Easter day with the observation of Lent. Officially starting on Ash Wednesday, this 40-day period is a time of fasting, prayer, and abstinence, where participants chose to give up something that is meaningful to them, or which they have deep dependence on. It can range from a certain food, the Internet, a hobby, smoking, etc.
Despite the deep-rooted tradition that can be traced back to the 4th century, many have questioned the purpose of Lent; including where in scripture does it say believers must participate in Lent, and that after Lent period is over people still return to their habits anyways. Regardless of the heavy dispute, Lent is still a powerful tradition that is fundamental to the believer’s faith.
On the last week of Lent, which is referred to as Holy Week, each day has a specific observation as well.
Palm Sunday is the day to commemorate the day Jesus arrived to the town of Jerusalem on a donkey. It is customary before Mass service for palm leaves and branches would be blessed inside the church.
Holy Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays include Mass services with each day recounting events that happen during Jesus’ time, such as Monday pertaining to Jesus clearing out the temple, and Thursday recalling the events of the Passover meal. Good Friday is a day to remember the crucifixion of Jesus and this death at Calvary, Holy Saturday observes Jesus’ body laying the tomb, and then finally Easter Sunday.
In some countries, believers commemorate Holy Week even further by actually reenacting the crucifixion of Christ as a passion play. In the Philippines, devotees carry wooden crosses, self-flagellate, and are then nailed to the cross. The San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites have at least three individuals whom are nailed, with some who even participate every year.
Whether it is tradition that spans for over a month with heavy rituals, a simple Christian Sunday service, or a just a day to enjoy springtime with family, Easter is has come a long way from its ancient origins to the celebrated holiday that is today.