Easter is a time for celebrating new life and the arrival of spring. Easter is based around the Christian story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
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The Easter story
The Christian story of Easter focuses on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was arrested by the Romans, after his friend Judas betrayed him by telling the Romans where to find him, and was put to death by crucifixion. After his death, Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb. Three days later, the tomb was found to be empty and an angel appeared bringing news that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Spring festivals have existed since ancient times, where the end of winter, the beginning of spring and the arrival of new life is celebrated.
Easter is a Christian spring holiday which takes many of its symbols, such as rabbits and eggs, from these ancient traditions. Easter celebrates new life and rebirth, focusing on the story of the resurrection (coming back to life) of Jesus Christ.
Calculating the date of Easter each year can be difficult because it is based on rules and traditions relating to various calendars (such as Hebrew, Julian or Gregorian) and moon phases. Different Christian denominations may even celebrate Easter at different times. For example, the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates at a different time to the Catholic Church.
Generally, Easter occurs somewhere between late March and late April.
There are many symbols that have come to be associated with Easter. Here are a few examples:
Crosses – Jesus was crucified on a wooden cross and these have come to symbolise his death and resurrection.
Eggs – symbolise new life and rebirth.
Rabbits – symbolise fertility and new life.
Lambs – represent spring and new life. Lambs also have links to Jesus who was called the ‘Good Shepherd’ and also referred to as a sacrificial lamb.
Palm fronds – symbolise peace and have links to the bible which tells of Jesus being greeted with palm fronds when he arrived in Jerusalem just days before he was arrested.
Many Christians partake in Lent (the period of forty days before Easter). During this period many people fast or give up particular luxuries. Some people give up simple items such as chocolate to mark Lent, while others do not eat meat, fish, eggs or dairy.
The last week of Lent is called the Holy Week. Palm Sunday is the day that Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday is the day of the Last Supper and Good Friday is the day of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Easter Sunday comes as a huge celebration at the end of Lent with feasting and treats, commemorating the day that Jesus was resurrected.
In Australia, we celebrate Easter with hot cross buns and chocolate Easter eggs. We are also lucky enough to be visited by the Easter Bilby. Like the Easter Bunny, the Easter Bilby has long pointy ears and fine fur.
The Easter Bilby is our preferred chocolate-giving creature in Australia because rabbits are often viewed as pests as they take over the habitat of native animals. The Easter Bilby is the perfect representative for Australian wildlife to raise awareness of native and endangered species.
Easter in other countries
Easter in Greece is a very religious time, churches are decorated and religious processions are held. Eggs are painted red to represent the blood of Christ. Traditionally, when people meet they knock their eggs together and say ‘Christos anesti!’ meaning ‘Christ is risen!’
Germany has a number of Easter traditions. Easter Sunday is known as ‘Family Day’. Lots of sweet treats are eaten, including a cake shaped like a lamb, and eggs and cookies are hidden in the garden. Many Germans also have an ‘Easter Fire’ where they burn their Christmas tree to show that winter is over and spring is coming. It is also popular in Germany to have an egg tree. Real eggs are painted and then hung from branches in a vase inside the house. Some people go to huge efforts to cover an entire tree in their garden with these delicate egg ornaments.
In Hungary, Easter is celebrated with the baking of delicious pastries and the painting of hardboiled eggs. People in northeast Hungary celebrate with an interesting Easter ritual called the ‘Watering of the Girls’ or ‘Dousing Day’. Girls and boys wear traditional dress, then the girls run down the street while the boys throw buckets of water on them (to ensure they will become good wives)! Afterwards, the girls reward the boys who splashed them with coins or Easter eggs painted with flowers.
As in many countries, eggs are decorated at Easter. During the nineteenth century, Russia took this to a whole new level of extravagance. Born in 1846, Peter Carl Fabergé worked as a jeweller and gold-smith for the Russian Imperial Court, creating jewelled masterpieces for Russia’s royalty and nobility.
The Tsar Alexander III had Fabergé create an Imperial Easter Egg as a gift for the Empress each Easter. Each egg took a year to create as they were highly decorated and made out of precious stones and metals such as gold, silver, pearls, rubies and diamonds. Each egg held a surprise, some opened to reveal a beautiful pendant, a portrait or a golden hen inside.
Easter fast facts
- It is believed that the word ‘Easter’ may come from ‘Eostre’ (sometimes called ‘Eostare’), the Anglo-Saxon goddess of sunrise and spring, who had festivals and feasts held in her honour during April.
- The cross on hot cross buns is there to remind us of Jesus, his crucifixion and resurrection.
- The day before Lent begins is called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. Traditionally, a feast was held on this day to use up all of the food that people would not be able to eat during Lent. Pancakes were a popular recipe to get rid of eggs and milk.
- Eggs are often ‘blown’ to empty them of their contents before they are painted. Each end of the egg is pricked, and then air is blown into one end so that the yolk and white comes out of the other. The delicate hollow eggshells can then be painted.
- One of the world’s largest chocolate Easter eggs measured over 27 feet tall and weighed over 4000kgs.
- In Norway, it is so popular to read a detective or crime novel over the Easter long-weekend, that they have a genre called ‘Paaskekrim’ meaning ‘Easter crime’.
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