It’s spring and close to the best Christian holiday of this season, one with great meaning, a time for renewal and new life. Since embracing the beauty and happiness of each season lies not only in the surface of customs and the joy of family and friends gathering but also in finding out the depths of them, we’ve prepared an incursion into the history and symbolism of Easter.
The name of the holiday dates back to the wording combination of two ancient festivals: the old pagan European festival Ostara, that celebrated new life and rebirth in the time of spring and the Arabian Sun festival called Ishtar. For Christians Easter and its traditions has become the celebration of the new life Jesus Christ gave to the world when he died for the sins of others and then resurrected.
The first Jewish Christians added Easter to the Passover festival (celebration in remembrance of the saving of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt (approx. 4000 years ago). Jesus resurrected on a Sunday, thus Easter is being celebrated on the first Sunday after Passover.
The Friday before Easter stands as a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ by dying on the cross to take away the sins of the world. During this Friday many people start repenting their wrong doings by going to walks around the city dressed in robes and carrying a big wooden cross or in certain traditions (like Orthodox Christianity) they confess their sins to priests so they metaphorically ascend to Heaven clean of their sins. Actually being resurrected and embodied is another way of saying that acknowledging your sins and getting out of guilt and remorse will give you a new life.
On Easter Sunday, celebrations start in churches at midnight. Candles are being lit in churches around the world. The lit candles stand for Christ as the light of the world and the process of lighting them an homage for the rising of Jesus from the dead bringing light into darkness and getting rid of evil forever.
In some Churches the service starts in total darkness, then candles are being lit and priests say the words: Christ has risen and the crowd responds: Indeed He has risen.
Churches are filled with flowers on Easter Sunday representing new life and priests wear their best robes for this celebration.
The Easter eggs
Eggs are a symbol from the pagan times for New Life and fertility. Later on, Christianity took over the meaning of New Life as a commemoration of Jesus’s resurrection and having given New life through him thus adopting eggs as part of the Easter traditions.
Coloring the eggs for Easters goes back to different legends:
One legend says that Mary Magdalene went to speak with the roman emperor Tiberius after Christ has resurrected and greeted him by saying: Christ has risen. The emperor said ironically that “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red!” gesturing to an egg that was on the table or carried by Mary herself, depending on the version of the story. After that being said the egg turned a bright red.
Another story tells that Mary, the mother of Jesus was present at the crucifixion and had a basket of eggs with her. The eggs were colored in red with the blood that Christ bled on the cross.
Traditions with eggs
In some countries, people make egg hunts by hiding eggs around the house or garden and children have to go and find them as a fun activity for Easter Sunday. Sometimes they are told they were hidden by the Easter Bunny.
Other games include the rolling of Easter eggs on a hill or slope and the first one that reaches the end without being broken is the winner and another one with the knocking of hard boiled eggs where the whole purpose of the game is to knock your egg on those of others and keep your egg unbroken. The one whose egg has remained intact by the end of the game is the winner.
Bunnies and lambs
Bunnies and lambs are associated with this holiday because most baby animals are born in spring around Easter time.
Like eggs, in Pagan times, bunnies were signs of New life and good luck.
The lamb is a symbol for Christ, often referred to as Lamb of God, being sacrificed for the sins of the world. In Jewish traditions, lambs were used as sacrifices for the sins and wrong doing of people. In some countries, the main Easter dish is lamb steak.
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