The arrival of Spring symbolises rebirth and regeneration, a renewal of life, a sense of hope and brings with it the charm and magic of ancient festivals like Easter. The festival of Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Christ and is one of the most important festivals for Christians worldwide.
Easter is the culmination of Lent that begins on Ash Wednesday. The Lenten season is a 40-day period of penitence and fasting in preparation for fasting.
The last week of Lent, Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper is the eve of the Crucifixion on Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the Cross. Holy Week ends with Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Christ. There is a very high attendance at churches across the world on Easter Sunday.
History behind Easter
The history behind Easter, the most important Christian festival, is one of osmosis of two ancient traditions - the Pagan and Judeo-Christian celebrations of death and resurrection. These celebrations were customarily held on or after the Spring Equinox.
The Judeo-Christian Passover fused with pagan fertility worship to create a new festival celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Jesus was born during the winter solstice and his death followed by his resurrection happened during the spring equinox, the special feast day of ‘Eostre’, the ancient Goddess of Spring and Fertility.
The festival therefore stands for new life, fertility and purity.
Many traditional symbols of Easter are related to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Easter eggs and Bunnies: The hare and the egg were the symbols of Eastre, the goddess of fertility. As the primordial source of life, the egg is a natural symbol of fertility and the appropriate gift at Easter, once it is beautifully painted in vivid colours evocative of springtime. Easter eggs are symbolic of new life and fertility. Interestingly, according to the Pagan mythology, two halves of an egg are believed to depict Heaven and Earth.
Easter bunny is also a significant Easter symbol as it represents fertility. The story goes that the Easter bunny used to lay eggs for the children to find.
Hot Cross Buns: An ox was ritually sacrificed at the feast of Eastre – the ox’s horns were carved into the sacred bread, hence ‘hot cross buns. The cross was also meant to represent the moon and its four quarters. Later, the symbol of a symmetrical cross was used to decorate the buns.
White lilies are also symbolic of Easter as they represent purity and peace, and are used in decorating the churches. The white, trumpet-shaped lilies that bloom in the spring, just before Easter epitomise purity and innocence, hope and rebirth. Found in the Garden of Gethsemane after the Crucifixion, the lilies came up at the very place where drops of Christ's sweat and blood fell to the earth.
Churchgoers swarm the churches for special prayers and ceremonies on Easter Sunday. People host sumptuous lunches and dinners and also organise Easter parties. Easter cakes are also prepared in Christian families. Exchange of gifts and colourful lanterns is one of the traditions of Easter.
Interesting games are arranged to keep up the festive spirit. In some places, games like egg hunt are a part of the festivities. Decorating Easter eggs are a part of the celebration where eggs are dyed, coloured and painted.