What is Easter and How is it Celebrated?

Learn about the significance of Easter

3 crosses that symbolized Jesus crucifixion

What is Easter?

Easter marks the celebration of Jesus Christ's resurrection, occurring three days after his crucifixion, underscoring its deep significance within Christianity. This holiday caps off the "Passion of Christ," a sequence of observances starting with Lent—a 40-day stretch of fasting, prayer, and penance—and culminating in Holy Week. Holy Week encompasses Holy Thursday, commemorating Jesus's final meal with his Apostles; Good Friday, reflecting on his crucifixion; and Easter Sunday, rejoicing in his resurrection.

Essence of Easter

Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13:13, "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love," profoundly capture the spirit of Easter. This message highlights the season's deep-rooted values. Love, demonstrated by Jesus's selfless sacrifice on the cross, forms the heart of the Easter story. Hope, reawakened by His resurrection, brings us not only the promise of new beginnings but also the courage to face and conquer our fears. Faith, a steadfast trust in God's ability to turn the impossible into reality, anchors us throughout this journey called life.

The Origins and Symbols of Easter

The term "Easter" itself, derived from Old English, simply means "East," where the sun rises, bringing light, warmth, and hope. This is symbolic of Christ's resurrection, heralding Him as the true Light of the world and God's greatest act of love to redeem humanity.

But why the Easter bunny and eggs? These symbols of spring and renewal—bunnies, chicks, and eggs—might initially seem disconnected from the Easter narrative. However, they find their roots in ancient traditions. The Easter bunny, a symbol of fertility and new beginnings, harks back to Eostre, the goddess of fertility, where rabbits, known for their prolific nature, and the spring season are intertwined with themes of life and renewal. Eggs, with their connotations of new life, bridge both pagan and Christian traditions, symbolizing not just fertility but also the rebirth of Christ.

Family celebrating Easter with easter eggs

Easter Celebrations around the World

1. Spain: "Semana Santa": In Spain, Easter week, known as "Semana Santa," is celebrated with profound reverence and spectacular processions. Towns and cities across the country are transformed with parades that depict the Passion of Christ. Participants, dressed in traditional robes and hoods, carry elaborate floats (pasos) adorned with religious icons and sculptures. The solemnity of the marchers, the haunting drone of drums, and the scent of incense create a powerful atmosphere of devotion and contemplation.

2. Italy: "Scoppio del Carro" (Explosion of the Cart): Florence, Italy, witnesses the "Scoppio del Carro," an event that blends history, religion, and pyrotechnics in a celebration dating back over 350 years. On Easter Sunday, a cart packed with fireworks is led through the streets of Florence to the front of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Following the midday mass, the Archbishop launches a dove-shaped rocket (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) into the cart, igniting a spectacular fireworks display. This tradition is said to ensure a good harvest and symbolizes peace and renewal.

3. Poland: "Śmigus-Dyngus" (Wet Monday): Easter Monday in Poland is celebrated with a unique tradition known as "Śmigus-Dyngus," or Wet Monday. On this day, people engage in friendly water fights, splashing each other with water. Traditionally, boys would douse girls with water and spank them with willow branches. Today, it's a fun-filled, all-inclusive water battle that symbolizes the spring cleaning of body and soul, marking the end of Lent and the arrival of spring.

4. Greece: "Lambades" and the Resurrection Service: In Greece, the Midnight Resurrection Service is a central event of Easter celebrations. People gather in churches with "lambades," large, ornately decorated candles, which they light from the "Holy Light" on Holy Saturday. The light is shared among attendees, symbolizing the passing of Christ's resurrection light to illuminate the lives of the faithful. Following the service, families return home to break their fast with a meal that includes "magiritsa," a traditional soup made from lamb offal.

5. Sweden: "Påskkärringar" (Easter Witches): Easter in Sweden brings a tradition reminiscent of Halloween in the United States. Children dress up as "Påskkärringar" (Easter witches) with colorful garments, painted cheeks, and freckles. They go from house to house in their neighborhoods on Maundy Thursday, exchanging paintings and drawings for sweets and chocolates. This tradition is rooted in folklore and symbolizes the defeat of winter's darkness by the light of spring and life.

6. United States: In the United States, Easter celebrations bring communities and families together with fun-filled activities like Easter egg hunts and the decorating of Easter eggs. This tradition has children excitedly searching gardens and parks for brightly colored eggs hidden by the Easter Bunny. Decorating eggs, ranging from simple dyeing techniques to elaborate designs, is a beloved Easter craft that sparks creativity in both children and adults.

Each of these celebrations remind us of the universal themes of renewal, joy, and spiritual rebirth that Easter embodies, inviting us to reflect on our shared humanity and the diverse expressions of faith and culture around the world.