Easter, the time which celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is not on a set date every year as most other holidays are. Instead, it is always celebrated on the Sunday immediately following the Paschal (Passover) Full Moon date of the year. According to the Ecclesiastical tables, the Paschal Full Moon is the first Ecclesiastical Full Moon date after March 20. Easter is the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox. The dates for Easter can range from March 22 through April 25 in western Christianity because the Paschal Full Moon can vary as much as two days from the date of the actual full moon, with dates from March 21 to April 18. (Vernal has to do with spring; equinox is the time when the sun crosses the equator, making night and day of equal length.)
Easter is really an entire season of the Christian Church year, with Lent, being the forty day period before Easter Sunday, representing the forty days that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness before beginning His ministry. The day before Lent, known as Fat Tuesday, is the last fling of food and fun before fasting begins. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a time when ashes were used to make the sigh of the Cross on the forehead of the believer. Then, the week preceding Easter is known as Holy Week, and includes Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with His disciples; Good Friday, which was the day of His crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, which focuses on the transition between crucifixion and resurrection. Next, the fifty day period following Easter Sunday is called Eastertide; this includes a celebration of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. The word “Lent” comes from an Anglo Saxon word “Lenten” meaning spring.
‘’In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.” These lines from the Irving Berlin song, “Easter Parade” are also from the 1948 motion picture of the same name, starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Peter Lawford, and Ann Miller. One of the last scenes from the movie was set in 1911, and showed the New York City Easter Parade. This Easter Parade dates back to the middle 1800’s, becoming a tradition in that city. The social elite would attend Easter services at one of the Fifth Avenue churches and afterwards parade their new fashions down Fifth Avenue. Less affluent, and those of lower social status, would line the streets in order to see what the latest fashion trends were. This event began in the 1870’s and became very popular during the mid-twentieth century, but has declined in later years.
The earliest beginning of modern Easter parades has been cited as Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Also, during the Dark Ages, Christians in Eastern Europe would gather before Easter church services and walk to the church, demonstrating a unity of spirit, and a reaching out to nonbelievers. The church-goers also wore their finest articles of clothing in order to show respect for the occasion.
It seems that the tradition of a new Easter (or spring) bonnet appears to be the reaction of people to the Christian period of Lent, which is a forty day period of fasting, repentance, and spiritual discipline in preparation for Easter. Since Lent is a time when many Christians deny themselves luxuries, getting a new bonnet was an enjoyable way to greet the spring and with it, Easter. Spring would also represent the end of restrictions and deprivations of winter. With spring there was a new beginning. The start of spring also was a time of airing out the house from the winter odors and dust; thus, a time of “spring cleaning,” which is not a tradition of most people today.
The Easter bunny was said to have been introduced in America by German settlers arriving in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700’s. According to the legend, the Easter bunny brings baskets filled with colored eggs and candy to the homes of “good” children on the night before Easter. These will be hidden for the children to find upon waking that morning. It was also a custom for the children to build brightly colored nests, sometimes out of their caps or bonnets, for the bunny or Easter Hare to place eggs in the nest if the children had been good. (Sounds as though this custom could have been borrowed from Christmas, doesn”t it?) The first edible Easter bunnies were made of pastry and sugar, and were introduced in Germany during the early 1800’s.
During the War Between the States, the following were the dates of Easter: March 31, 1861; April 20, 1862; April 5, 1863; March 27, 1864; April 10, 1865. These soldiers fighting in the war sometimes went for days without food, and existed on water and whatever they could find from the land. From accounts written in diaries of some of the soldiers, we find that their Easter dinner consisted of two eggs, which was a delicacy. Another account states that the men had a cup of “genuine” coffee on that particular morning, and other groups had bacon or pork and cornbread. However, the pork could be rancid, and the cornbread made out of meal and water.
Of course we cannot forget the beautiful Easter lily, with trumpet-shaped white flowers which are symbols of purity, hope, and life. Tradition tells us that the white lilies sprang up where drops of Christ’s sweat fell on the ground in His final hours of agony. The lily is also mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount.
Then there is the Sunrise Service which is held at many churches on Easter morning. It is interesting to note that the first “Sunrise Service” was held in 1732 in what is now Germany. The Single Brethren in Moravian Congregation went before dawn to the town graveyard to celebrate the Resurrection among the graves of those who had departed. This followed an all night vigil.
The eggs we hear so much about during this time of year are said to represent new life that returns to nature at Easter time. Also, the early Christians of Mesopotamia were supposedly the first to use colored eggs, with the Europeans coloring eggs red to represent the joy of the Resurrection. According to legend, some eggs were dyed and hidden in a nest during a famine; the nest was found and a bunny hopped out of the nest, symbolizing new birth.
Another very important symbol of Easter is the Cross, which represents the promise of a new life to come for all men. It also lets us know that Jesus triumphed over death, and that the Old Testament promise was fulfilled.
Other symbols of Easter include bitter herbs to represent the bitterness of Egyptian slavery; the shank bone is displayed to remember that a lamb was used in the first Passover for blood over the door; parsley dipped in a small dish of saltwater symbolizes the tears of the Israelite slaves in Egypt; and Matzah, or unleavened bread, would show the haste of flight from Egypt.
As we think about the significance of Easter, we need to consider the real meaning of this season. Spring itself is a time for awakening, renewal, and a new beginning. It is no accident that the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus happened during this time of year. God gives us the spring season for newness of life in Christ and a time of renewal; we can see that by just looking outside at the new growth of the earth. Also, it is not by accident that so many of the young in the animal kingdom are born during the springtime. God has a plan and He is still in control. Even though Easter is a serious and thoughtful time of year, we can still enjoy hiding Easter eggs and have family gatherings to celebrate if we keep in mind the significance of the season. Remember, we should learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.
Pat Guffey can be reached at email@example.com