What is Easter
Easter is a Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The English word Easter comes from the German word Ostern. However, some believe that the word originated from Eostre, or Eostrae, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.
When does Easter occur
Easter falls on a Sunday, following the 40 days called Lent. Lent is a time of fasting, and Christians give up their major indulgence during this period.
The Holy Week observed during the last week of the Lent period leads up to Easter. The week begins on Palm Sunday, continues to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and lastly, it is Easter Sunday.
Why Easter doesn’t fall on a fixed date
Fixing the Resurrection date of Jesus underwent a significant dispute. As a result, the date of Easter is observed differently by the Eastern and Western churches and their followers. The Easter dispute, popularly referred to as the Paschal controversies, existed till the 8th century.
In the Asia Minor region, Christians observe the day of the Crucifixion on the same day when Jews celebrate the Passover offering—on the 14th day of the first full moon of spring, 14 Nisan as per the Jewish Calendar. Later, the resurrection came to be observed two days later, on 16 Nisan, regardless of the day of the week. The people celebrating the resurrection on the 14th day were known as the Quartodecimans (“14th-day” proponents).
In the West, the Resurrection of Jesus was celebrated on the first day of the week, Sunday, when he rose from being dead. Consequently, Easter was always celebrated on the first Sunday after the 14th day of the month of Nisan. Subsequently, several churches went for the Sunday celebration, and the Quartodecimans lost their influence due to smaller numbers.
In 325, the Council of Nicaea decreed that Easter should be observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox (March 21). Therefore, Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25.
The Eastern Orthodox churches observe Easter based on the Julian calendar, which is 13 days ahead of the Gregorian Calendar. So the Orthodox Easter celebration generally falls later than the one followed by Protestants and Roman Catholics. However, several attempts to declare a fixed date for Easter have not succeeded till now. This year Easter will be celebrated on Sunday, April 17, 2022.
There are several unique customs related to Easter.
- The custom of the Easter lamb: Denotes the lamb’s role as a sacrificial animal in ancient Israel. In ancient times the Christians placed lamb meat under the altar, had it blessed, and then ate it on Easter. It is a common practice of the Christians to end their Lenten fast by eating meals that include eggs, ham, cheeses, bread, and sweets blessed for the Easter occasion.
- Painted and decorated Easter eggs: During ancient times, the church prohibited eating eggs during Holy Week, but chickens continued to lay eggs during that week. Later, the egg itself became a symbol of the Resurrection. Just as Jesus rose from the tomb, the egg symbolizes new life emerging from the eggshell. In the Orthodox tradition, eggs are painted red to symbolize the blood Jesus shed on the cross. Chocolates and cakes too are made in the shape of eggs.
- The Easter Rabbit: The Easter rabbit is believed to lay the eggs, decorate them and hide them. In the United States, the Easter rabbit also leaves children baskets with toys and candies on Easter morning.
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