Sunday, April 20, 2014


It is interesting to me that many of the celebrated days of the major religions have no fixed days of origin. Hinduism can be excused for not having fixed dates of origin since that religion evolved as the inhabitants of the Indus valley assimilated the rites of the earliest settlers about 1500 BC. Islam celebrates its founder daily in remembering Mohammed as Allah’s prophet in their continual prayers, but has no fixed day for the birth of the prophet, knowing that he was born somewhere around the year 570 AD. Likewise, the two most celebrated days of Christianity, Christmas and Easter, have no historical foundation for the days on which they are celebrated. (For information on why we celebrate Christmas on December 25 – see Thoughts for a Sabbath Day, December 22 and December 29, 2013)

There doesn't seem to be much evidence of Easter being celebrated much before the mid second century of the modern calendar. Those early Christians, knowing that Jesus’ last week was during the Jewish Passover celebration, celebrated Easter based on the calculations of the Jewish calendar. In many languages the words for Easter and Passover are almost identical. It is also of interest to note that some of the customs of the Jewish Passover are included in the practices of Christian religions.

Besides many other foundational principles of Christianity, the dates for the Easter season were establish during the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. At that time the date for Easter was established to be on the first Sunday after the full moon (paschal moon) following the March equinox. This formula is also used with some variables by those Christian churches that use the Gregorian and Julian calendars as well as the Jewish calendar. This year (2014) the astronomical, Gregorian and Julian all fix the date for Easter Sunday as April 20, but the Jewish calendar marks April 15 as the day to celebrate Passover. It should be mentioned that every year does not always have this much harmony with the dates.

During the centuries there have been attempts to standardize the date for Easter Sunday. In 1928 the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed an Easter Act establishing Easter Sunday as the first Sunday after the first Saturday in April. Although the act remains on the legal statutes of the United Kingdom the change has never been put into practice.

In 1997 the World Council of Churches set the year 2001 as the year the scientific Astronomical calendar would be used to set the date for the Sunday Easter would be celebrated. Much like the Parliament of the United Kingdom, this attempt to alter the moveable day for celebrating Easter has not changed the habits of the world of Christianity.

Since most of the celebrants of Easter do so on one or maybe two days a year, (there are countries which also have Easter Monday as a holiday) it might be well to introduce most Christians to the Easter Season which spans roughly a quarter of the year.

Lent – Begins on Ash Wednesday which is forty days before Easter not including the Sundays which fall during that period. A time set apart for rededication and sacrifice for those adherents of the traditions of the full Easter Season.

Holy Week – Week which precedes Easter Sunday.

Palm Sunday – Sunday before Easter Sunday. In remembrance of the Savior’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem when He was recognized as King.

Spy Wednesday – Remembering the suffering in the Garden and the betrayal by Judas.

Good Friday – Remembrance of the crucifixion and death of Jesus the Christ.

Holy or Silent Saturday – Time awaiting the resurrection of Jesus.

Easter Sunday – Celebration of resurrection of Jesus the Christ the Savior of Mankind.

Eastertide – Fifty days following the Savior’s resurrection ending on the day of Pentecost when Stephen saw the savior standing at the right side of His Father.

Along with the traditions which have evolved because of the New Testament writings surrounding the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ there are many customs around the world which happen during the Easter Season which stem more from cultural roots than from the beginnings of Christianity.

Fertility rites – Probably the most common customs which celebrants of Easter practice which have nothing to do with the Savior stem from spring time fertility celebrations. These would include all of those which deal with eggs. Such as egg rolling, egg tipping or fighting (bumping the tip of your decorated egg against the tip of another – the un-cracked egg goes forward until one egg is the champion). Others just judge the uniqueness and beauty of the decorated eggs to determine a champion. Some cultures have egg decorated trees much like trees which are decorated to celebrate Christmas. A whole industry has come forth bringing the egg into the employment of chocolate along with chocolate bunnies and chicks.

Along with the eggs we have the Easter Bunny which has a double fertility symbolism and the chick which shows the fruits of fertility.

Old celebrations in the glen have been calmed a bit where in some places women are spanked or have perfumed water splashed on them as an indication of their desirability. Women also dump cold water on men to cool their passions. However, the orgy called ‘Spring Break’ or ‘Easter Break’ is looked forward to and practiced with passion today by young adults worldwide.

Renewal rites – Flowers become a big part of Easter’s celebration as a recognition that the long winter has past and spring has come about. For some reason the lily has become prominent among the flowers of Easter season. There are many cultures that pile scraps of wood in the center of town and set them on fire as a symbol that all things old are gone and from the ashes will come new life. Ironically, since this is a celebration of the Prince of Peace, fights break out as rivals try to steal scraps from their neighbor’s piles. Some cultures burn a doll representing Judas of Iscariot in these fires.

Food and Other rites – There are some interesting food practices which have to do with the reason for the Easter Season and some which seem to have more in common with the Passover. Hot cross buns are definitely a result of the rites of Ash Wednesday, but the bone shank of lamb or ham along with salads of cucumbers and lettuce come much closer to the Seder Suppers of the Passover. Other interesting traditions have to do with bearing a basket of foods to be blessed by the local priest to insure the bounteousness of the coming crops. It doesn't take much imagination to see where the modern Easter baskets originated. I don't think any self-respecting priest would bless the sugar laden baskets children find on Easter morning. It is fun, however, to realize where that basket thing got its start.

(To be continued)

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