2Easter EggsThe Easter Egg predates the Christian holiday of Easter. The custom may have its origin in paganism, for a great many pagan customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The exchange of eggs in the springtime is a custom that was centuries old when Easter was first celebrated by Christians. Given as gifts by the ancient Greeks, Persians, and Chinese at their spring festivals, the egg also appears in pagan mythology, where we read of the Sun-Bird being hatched from the World Egg. In some pagan customs, the Heaven and Earth were thought to have been formed from two halves of an egg. From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures, an emblem of the germinating life of early spring. Eggs were often wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a peasant, colored brightly by boiling them with the leaves or petals of certain flowers.
3The History of EasterAlthough principally a celebration commemorating the resurrection, the celebrations of Easter have many customs and legends that are pagan in origin and have nothing to do with ChristianityScholars, accepting the derivation proposed by the 8th-century English scholar St. Bede, believe the name Easter is thought to come from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre," both Goddesses of mythology signifying spring and fertility whose festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox. The English name "Easter" is much newer. When the early English Christians wanted others to accept Christianity, they decided to use the name Easter for this holiday so that it would match the name of the old spring celebration. This made it more comfortable for other people to accept Christianity.
4Prechristian Traditions The prechristian Traditions associated with the festival survive in the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as giftsThe Christian celebration of Easter embodies a number of converging traditions with emphasis on the relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach, from which is derived Pasch, another name used by Europeans for Easter. The Jewish Passover is celebrated during Nisan, the first month of the Hebrew lunar year. It is an important feast in the Jewish calendar which is celebrated for 8 days and commemorates the flight and freedom of the Israelites deliverance from about 300 years of bondage in Egypt. It was in during this Passover in 30 AD Christ was crucified under the order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate as the then Jewish high priests accused Jesus of "blasphemy". The resurrection came three days later, on the Easter Sunday. The early Christians, many of them being brought up in Jewish tradition regarded Easter as a new feature of the Pascha (Passover). It was observed in memory of the advent of the Messiah, as foretold by the prophets. And it is equanimous with the proclamation of the resurrection. Thus the early Christian Passover turned out to be a unitive celebration in memory of the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus. However, by the 4th century, Good Friday came to be observed as a separate occasion. And the Pascha Sunday had been devoted exclusively to the honor of the glorious resurrection.
5The Feast of EasterThe Feast of Easter was well established by the second century. But there had been dispute over the exact date of the Easter observance between the Eastern and Western Churches. The East wanted to have it on a weekday because early Christians observed Passover every year on the 14th of Nisan, the month based on the lunar calendar. But, the West wanted that Easter should always be a Sunday regardless of the date. To solve this problem the emperor Constantine called the Council of Nicaea in 325. The question of the date of Easter was one of its main concerns. The council decided that Easter should fall on Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. But fixing up the date of the Equinox was still a problem. The Alexandrians, noted for their rich knowledge in astronomical calculations were given the task. And March 21 was made out to be the perfect date for spring equinox. Thus easter is observed by the churches of the West on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox (March 2I). So Easter became a "movable" feast which can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25Christian churches in the East which were closer to the birthplace of the new religion and in which old traditions were strong, observe Easter according to the date of the Passover festival.
8Worldwide Easter Celebrations New York City's Annual Easter Parade, 1998Religious services and other Easter celebrations vary throughout theregions of the world and even from country to country. In the United States, many "sunrise services" are held outside, often in gardens or beside lakes where baptisms (representing rebirth) can be held on Easter morning. Here are a few other ways in which Easter is celebrated:Bulgaria - In Bulgaria, people don't hide their eggs -- they have egg fights! Whoever comes out of the game with an unbroken egg is the winner and assumed to be the most successful member of the family in the coming year. In another tradition, the oldest woman in the family rubs the faces of the children with the first red egg she has colored, symbolizing her wish that they have rosy cheeks, health and strength (much like the Easter egg).Mexico - Easter and related holidays are colorful and lively in Mexico, where children actually smash eggs over each other's heads in the week before Lent begins! Fortunately, these eggs are filled with small pieces of paper rather than raw egg.Germany - In Germany, eggs are dyed green on Maundy Thursday.Greece - On Easter Sunday in Greece, there is a public procession. Red eggs (red for the blood of Christ) are tapped together while one person declares "Christ is risen" and the other replies "Truly He is risen."United States - Parades are traditional in some U.S. cities. Atlantic City's 140-year-old parade is the oldest, and the promenade on New York's Fifth Avenue, immortalized in Irving Berlin's song, "Easter Parade," is perhaps the best known. The annual White House Easter Egg Roll takes place in the nation's capitol city on Easter Monday. (You'll learn more about this tradition on the next page.)England - In England, in Hallaton (in the County of Leicestershire), every Easter Monday, there is the Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking. The story goes that a woman was saved by a hare running across the path of a bull on Easter Monday hundreds of years ago. As a token of her appreciation, she bequeathed a piece of land to the rector. The sole condition to this bequest was that the rector have a hare pie made to be distributed to parishioners together with a large quantity of ale every year. (More on hare pies later.)