The Traditions of Easter
By Jerry Wilson
- As with almost all holidays that have their roots in
Christianity, Easter has been secularized and commercialized.
The dichotomous nature of Easter and its symbols, however, is
not necessarily a modern fabrication.
Since its conception as a holy celebration in the second century, Easter
has had its non-religious side. In fact, Easter was originally a pagan
The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious
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 clandestine
It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to
celebrate their holy days with observances that did not coincide 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
Prior to 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 vernal
equinox, or first day of spring. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated
on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25. Its date is
tied to the lunar cycle.
The Lenten Season
Lent is the forty-six day period just prior to Easter Sunday. It begins
on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is a celebration,
sometimes called "Carnival," practiced around the world, on the Tuesday
prior to Ash Wednesday. It was designed as a way to "get it all out"
before the sacrifices of Lent began. New Orleans is the focal point
of Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. Read about the religious meanings
of the Lenten Season.
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 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
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.
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.
CBN.com's Easter Resources section
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© Jerry Wilson. Used with permission. For
further information, click here.
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