Easter marks the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after His death on the Cross. His disciples stated that on the third day after Christ’s death, He rose from the dead and that He appeared to them on various occasions and dwelt among them for forty days. The resurrection of Christ was the cornerstone of the ministry of St. Paul.
Jesus was crucified and buried on Friday and rose from the dead the following Sunday. Today, all Western Christians observe Easter on the same day. This falls on the first Sunday after the full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox, March 21st. Should the full moon fall on a Sunday, then Easter Day will be observed the Sunday following. This means that Easter may occur between March 22nd and April 25th. However, the Orthodox Eastern Church calculates the date in a slightly different way, so that Easter may occur one, four or five weeks later than this. Easter is a very important festival in the Christian year, around which the whole year of worship is organised. It is regarded as the Christian Passover. From earliest Christian times, Sunday, ‘little Easter”, has been kept as the weekly commemoration of Christ’s resurrection. A banner showing a red cross on a white ground, symbol of the resurrection, is often flown on Sundays from a church tower or spire. This is also the flag of Saint George, patron saint of England…
In almost all Churches, the period of Lent features as a preparation for the festival of Easter. It is a season of contrition. After Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, and before he began His ministry, he spent an exemplary period of fasting in the desert lasting 40 days and 40 nights. In the Roman Catholic Church, this period of fasting, known as Lent, begins on Ash Wednesday, Six and a half weeks before Easter and lasts forty days, not counting Sundays. In the Orthodox Church, it begins eight weeks before Easter, and fast days do not include Saturdays and Sundays. The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week, the Friday of Holy Week, two days before Easter Day is called Good Friday, and is the day on which Christ’s crucifixion is commemorated.
The Roman Catholic Easter services include renewal of the blessing of fire by lighting Easter candles, reading lessons from the Holy Bible concerning the sacrament of baptism and celebrating Easter Mass. In the early years of Christianity, the sacrament of baptism was administered only once a year on Easter Sunday. In the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, Easter begins before Saturday night worship with a procession outside the church. This is followed by the sacrament of Easter communion. When the procession is leaving the church, no lights are lit, but on its return, hundreds of candles and coloured torches are lit to symbolise the splendour of Christ’s resurrection.
On returning home after midnight, eggs painted crimson are banged together in celebration of Easter Sunday. Then a rich variety of dishes are served for the mid-day meal. The spicy Easter Loaf, woven like a plait is essential to the feast. In England, small spicy round loaves, decorated with a cross, called Hot Cross Buns, are produced at Eastertide. The proper time for eating them is Good Friday. In the Lutheran church services, and in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer there are special liturgies for Easter. In different sects of Protestant Churches, the Easter sacrament of Communion is held on different days in Holy Week.
Among Christian communities, various folk traditions have arisen within the framework of Easter celebrations. Most of these, in the context of the theme of resurrection, stem from the ancient rites of pagan spring festival and from symbols originating in Europe and the Near East. This festival may be thought to be derived from the Sumerian legends of Tammuz or the Anatolian Attis and Agdistis and the Greek Adonis. The death and rebirth of these figures symbolised the death of the year in autumn and its rebirth in spring. Eggs, a food forbidden during Lent and later gaining great significance as the symbol of new life and rebirth, have become, when painted or decorated, the symbol of Easter. During this festival, Christians present each other with gifts of eggs or egg-shaped objects. Eggs may be painted crimson or other colours, white representing the divinity of Christ, red expressing the idea of His sacrifice shows the blood of Christ spilt for the salvation of the whole world. According to a different interpretation, the egg symbolises the world, the shell being the sky, the membrane the air, the white the seas and the yolk the earth’s surface. On the day after Easter, it is customary to visit the graves of loved ones and services of prayers for the souls of the dead are offered up around this time. The rabbit, ancient Egyptian symbol of fecundity is later adopted in Europe. Especially in North America, the Easter bunny, still a symbol of human fecundity features prominently at Eastertide.
Syrian Christians celebrate Christ’s ascension into heaven forty days after His resurrection. During the ceremonies held in their churches, the congregation dip walnut leaves into holy water that has been blessed, and sprinkle each other with it, water being the symbol of the Holy Ghost.