Easter Week


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Easter Week

Bright Week, Renewal Week,
Week of New Garments, White Week

The seven days that follow Easter constitute Easter Week. In early Christian and early medieval times, Easter festivities and related religious services continued through this week. During Easter week the newly baptized attended church daily wearing the white robes given them at their baptisms during the Easter Vigil service. This custom gave rise to two folk names for Easter Week: "White Week," a name popular among western Europeans, and the "Week of New Garments," a name heard more frequently in eastern lands. Greeks often call the festival "Bright Week." This name comes from one of the titles associated with Easter itself, Lambri, meaning "bright." The word bright recalls the fires and lights associated with the Easter Vigil service, which in turn symbolize the spiritual light brought into the world by Jesus Christ (see also Easter Fires). The Orthodox also sometimes call Easter Week "Renewal Week." This name reflects the Christian teaching that by Jesus' resurrection all things are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). In Greek Orthodox and other Orthodox churches the doors to the sanctuary remain open during this week in honor of the Resurrection.

The Easter Week holiday ends at the close of Low Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. Low Sunday serves as the last day of the Easter octave. In the language of the church an octave is an eight-day period defined by a festival and the seven days that follow it. Among the Orthodox the Sunday after Easter is sometimes referred to as Anti- pascha, a name signifying that the day closes the Pascha, or Easter, festival. The Orthodox also call the day "St. Thomas Sunday," since church services on this day retell the story of St. Thomas the Apostle's encounter with the risen Christ.

History

Around the year 389 the Roman emperor made it easier for the newly baptized to attend church daily during this week by declaring the entire period a holiday. All Christians, however, not just the newly baptized, celebrated this week as a holiday and a holy time. Many refrained from working and attended church daily.

The religious obligations associated with Easter Week, or the octave of Easter, diminished over time. By the late eleventh century Church authorities expected the faithful to attend church only three times during this week. By the turn of the twentieth century only Easter Monday remained as a day of obligatory church attendance for Roman Catholics. In 1911 Roman Catholic authorities released the faithful from this last Easter Week obligation.

The feasting and revelry associated with Easter Week also declined over time. In England this slow decline eventually whittled a week of post-Easter festivities down to a single day. In the ninth century King Alfred the Great (849-899) ruled that none need to labor in the fourteen-day period that surrounded Easter. This included Holy Week, the week preceding Easter Sunday, and Easter Week, the week following. People tended to their religious devotions in the week preceding Easter and combined attendance at religious services with feasts, parties, games, and relaxation in the week following. By the thirteenth century this two-week period had shortened and shifted to the latter half of Holy Week and the ten days following Easter. These last two days, the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter, somehow acquired the mysterious name of Hocktide, and occasioned some of the most hilarious hijinks of the post-Easter celebrations. In 1552 Parliament passed a law restricting post-Easter festivities to the Monday and Tuesday directly following Easter. This state of affairs lasted until the nineteenth century, when lawmakers further reduced rejoicing to Easter Monday alone.

Today only the name, a faint spirit of festivity, and a few old customs remain as remnants of this once widely celebrated holiday. Modern work schedules have made it difficult to honor the old obligation to rejoice for a full week following Easter.

Further Reading

Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996. Metford, J. C. J. The Christian Year. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1991. Rouvelas, Marilyn. A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America. Bethesda, MD: Nea Attiki Press, 1993. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
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