Easter(redirected from Easter Myths)
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Easter[A.S. Eastre, name of a spring goddess], chief Christian feast, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. In the West, Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon next after the vernal equinox (see calendarcalendar
[Lat., from Kalends], system of reckoning time for the practical purpose of recording past events and calculating dates for future plans. The calendar is based on noting ordinary and easily observable natural events, the cycle of the sun through the seasons with equinox
..... Click the link for more information. ); thus, it falls between Mar. 22 and Apr. 25. The Orthodox Eastern Church calculates Easter somewhat differently, so that the Orthodox Easter usually comes several weeks after that of the West. Many dates of the Christian calendar are dependent on Easter. For most Christians there is a preparatory period of penitence, beginning (in the West) with Septuagesima Sunday, 17 days before LentLent
[Old Eng. lencten,=spring], Latin Quadragesima (meaning 40; thus the 40 days of Lent). In Christianity, Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter.
..... Click the link for more information. , and ending in Holy WeekHoly Week,
week before Easter. Its chief days are named Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. In Christian life it is a week of devout observance, commemorating the Passion and Jesus' death on the cross. The liturgies have special features and services, e.
..... Click the link for more information. . With Easter begins the paschal season, liturgically marked with rejoicing; Alleluia is often said, and the paschal candlecandle,
cylinder of wax or tallow containing a wick, used for illumination or for ceremonial purposes. The evidence of ancient writings is not conclusive as to the history of the candle; words translated "candle" may have meant "torch" or "lamp," and the "candlestick" was
..... Click the link for more information. is set up. The five Sundays of this time begin with Low Sunday. They are followed by Ascension Day (Thursday; see under AscensionAscension,
name usually given to the departure of Jesus from earth as related in the Gospels according to Mark (16) and Luke (24) and in Acts 1.1–11. The annual commemoration of this is one of the principal feasts in most Christian churches.
..... Click the link for more information. ) and, 10 days later, by PentecostPentecost
[Gr.,=fiftieth], important Jewish and Christian feast. The Jewish feast of Pentecost, in Hebrew Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, one of the three pilgrimage festivals, arose as the celebration of the closing of the spring grain harvest, which began formally in Passover 50
..... Click the link for more information. . The Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. Until Advent the weeks are counted from Pentecost or Trinity. A feature of Roman Catholic life is the Easter duty, by which every member is required to receive communion sometime between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday. Painting and rolling eggs and wearing new clothes are Easter customs; there is no development of social festivities comparable with those of Christmas.
Date of Observation: Between March 22 and April 25 in the West; between April 4 and May 8 in the East; first Sunday after the first full moon on or following the vernal equinox Where Celebrated: Worldwide, in over eighty nations
Symbols and Customs: Easter Bonnet, Easter Bunny, Easter Eggs, Easter Fires, Easter Lily, Paschal Candle, Paschal Lamb, Sunrise Service
Colors: The liturgical color for Easter is white or gold. White stands for joy and purity, and gold represents glory, exultation, and illumination. On Easter morning, the pope puts on his white vestments and lights a large white candle symbolizing the light of the world: the resurrected Christ. White is also the color of the EASTER LILY .
Related Holidays: Ash Wednesday, Carnival, Exaltation of the Cross, Forgiveness Sunday, Good Friday, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Yaqui Easter Ceremony
Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This holiday is considered the most important in the Christian year. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.
With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.
Easter marks the end of Holy Week. Holy Week in turn serves as the last week in LENT , a six-week period of spiritual preparation for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. According to the Bible, some of Jesus' followers went to his tomb on the first Easter Sunday only to find it empty. In one biblical account, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene as she wept outside his tomb and tells her of his resurrection. In others, the risen Jesus later appears to his disciples. Whatever happened had a profound effect on Jesus' followers, who thereafter believed in the possibility of salvation and new life through Jesus and his teachings.
It was common during the early days of Christianity to try to attract new converts by blending specifically Christian observances with existing pagan festivals. Just as the observation of Christmas was moved from January 6 to December 25, where it would coincide with the pagan celebration of the WINTER SOLSTICE , the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was traditionally identified with March 25, perhaps in the hope that it would supplant the ancient pagan festival in honor of the VERNAL EQUINOX.
Many of the symbols associated with Easter have their roots in the ancient rituals celebrating the arrival of spring. The name "Easter" may have come from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, whose feast was celebrated in the spring and who was associated with spring and fertility.
SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS
Wearing a new hat to church on Easter Sunday was a common practice in the United States during the years when hats themselves were in vogue. Well-known American songwriter Irving Berlin celebrated the custom in his song "Easter Parade," written in 1933. Now that women are less inclined to wear hats, the Easter bonnet is not the popular symbol it once was.
Wearing new clothes on Easter Sunday continues an ancient symbol of baptism and rebirth into a new life in Christ. In past times baptismal candidates put on new clothes right after the ceremony, as a sign of this new life. The early Christians usually baptized new members into the faith at Easter time, and some churches continue this practice today.
In some areas of the United States, the Easter bonnet has been transformed into a decoration for the home. Baskets of flowers, flower wreaths, and straw hats decorated with spring flowers can often be seen hanging on doors at this time of year.
Rabbits were common in pre-Christian fertility lore, where they symbolized the abundance of new life associated with spring. The ancient German goddess Ostara, for whom the German spring festival Ostern was named, was always accompanied by a hare, who may have been the precursor of the modern Easter Bunny. In any case, the association of the rabbit with Easter is probably the vestige of an ancient spring fertility rite.
Although rabbits and hares (their European cousins, with shorter ears and longer hind legs) have never had any connection to Christian religious symbolism, the Easter Bunny's role in the celebration of Easter is an important one, particularly for children. It is the Easter Bunny who lays the eggs that children hunt for on Easter morning, and who fills their Easter baskets with candy. Bunnies made out of pastry and sugar are popular in many European countries, while American children look forward to receiving chocolate or marshmallow rabbits.
The Easter Bunny came to America by way of the eighteenth-century German settlers, who referred to him as "Oschter Haws." Pennsylvania Dutch children prepared nests for this shy creature in a secluded corner or sheltered place in the garden or barn. On Easter Eve, the rabbit would lay his colored eggs in these nests, or in the caps and bonnets that children left out for him. The custom of leaving out an empty Easter basket didn't come along until later.
In Germany, the Easter Bunny lays red eggs on MAUNDY THURSDAY (the Thursday before Easter) and eggs of other colors on Easter Eve. In Panama, it's the conejo or "painted" rabbit who lays the eggs. He has smaller ears than his U.S. counterpart and is brown with white spots, similar to the markings of a fawn.
Some religious purists believe that the Easter Bunny has done to Easter what the cult of Santa Claus has done to CHRISTMAS. Others prefer to regard the rabbit emerging from his underground burrow as akin to Christ rising from His tomb on Easter morning. But no one has yet come up with a good explanation for why a rabbit would lay eggs.
As a symbol of fertility and immortality, the egg is an integral part of the mythology of all races, beginning with the ancient Egyptians and Hindus. Among Christians, the egg is associated with the rock tomb from which Christ emerged to begin his new life. Because the celebration of Easter is preceded by the forty days of LENT , during which eggs and other dairy products are forbidden among Orthodox Christians, it is traditional to begin the Easter meal in Russia and eastern Europe by cutting up an egg that has been blessed and distributing the pieces to each family member and guest. The custom of dyeing Easter eggs, usually with vegetable colors, is practiced throughout the United States and in northern and eastern Europe. It has become an art form in Poland and the Ukraine, where pysanki (from pysac, meaning to write or design) are decorated with geometrical or abstract patterns etched in wax (so as not to absorb the color) and applied with a needle or a small metal tube. Russians often exchange eggs that have been colored red, in honor of Jesus' blood, on Easter Day. The elaborate jeweled Easter eggs created by Peter Carl Fabergé in St. Petersburg during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were prized by the Russian royal family and other European aristocrats.
Games involving eggs are often played on Easter. In England, "Egg Saturday" marks the beginning of Shrovetide, or the last four days before LENT. Children used to go from door to door asking for eggs or meat and hurling broken crockery at the doors of those who refused-a custom known as Lent-crocking. Egg shackling, another English custom, involves placing eggs in a sieve and shaking them until all but one are cracked. The owner of the uncracked egg gets a prize. Paceegging (a corruption of Pasch) refers to the custom of going from house to house asking for gifts of Easter eggs.
Egg-cracking, egg-rolling, egg races, and Easter egg hunts are also popular games at Easter time. In Greece, an egg is suspended on a string from the ceiling while the guests who sit around the table start it swinging by hitting it with their heads, then try to catch it in their mouths. Egg-tapping, where children strike their eggs against one another to see whose survives without damage, is popular in many parts of the world. Egg-rolling is believed to symbolize the rolling away of the stone from Jesus' tomb. Perhaps the most famous egg-rolling event takes place EASTER MONDAY in Washington DC, on the White House lawn.
Where do Easter eggs come from? According to German folklore, the Easter Bunny lays the eggs and hides them in the garden, although other creatures have also been given credit for the laying of Easter eggs. In France, children are told that the Easter eggs are dropped by the church bells on their way back from Rome.
Primitive peoples believed that fire came from the sun and was capable of both giving life and destroying the forces of evil. It was a pagan custom to light bonfires around the time of the VERNAL EQUINOX to celebrate the re-emergence of the sun after the long, dark winter and to harness its life-giving powers. Torches, embers, or ashes taken from these fires were believed to be capable of stimulating the growth of crops and protecting the health of family members and farm animals.
When Christianity arrived, the tradition of setting bonfires at the beginning of spring was frowned upon by the Church. In Ireland, however, St. Patrick started the custom of lighting and blessing bonfires outside the churches on Holy Saturday night as a way of reinforcing the relationship between fire and Christ, the Light of the World. The Irish bishops and monks who came to the European continent in the sixth and seventh centuries brought the custom with them, and by the ninth century it had become so popular that it was eventually incorporated into the liturgy of Rome. The "blessing of the fire" has now become the opening rite of the Easter Vigil service.
In many Roman Catholic countries, people extinguish their fires and all other sources of light in their homes before the vigil service begins on Easter Eve. A bonfire is built in front of the church, where the priest lights it and blesses the fire. Glowing embers from the fire are then taken home and used to re-light the stoves and the lamps. Sometimes sticks charred in the Easter bonfire are laid on the hearth, where they offer protection from fire, lightning, and hail. Others are placed in the fields or gardens to preserve them from blight. Ashes from the Easter bonfire, often mixed together with ashes from the consecrated palms distributed on PALM SUNDAY, are sometimes mixed with the seed at sowing time, or sprinkled in with the cattle's drinking water to protect them from disease. The many superstitions associated with the Easter fires is strong evidence of their link to the old pagan fires of spring.
In Holland, Luxembourg, and several other European countries, worshippers carry wax candles to church on Easter Eve. One by one, they light their candles from the great PASCHAL CANDLE on the altar, until the entire church is illuminated by their flames.
Easter bonfires are still common in the Alpine regions of Austria, where they can be seen burning on the mountaintops after sunset on Holy Saturday, and where they are accompanied by children carrying lighted torches and bands of musicians playing sacred hymns. In western Sweden, the fires are usually built near the center of the village, where the singing, dancing, and merrymaking can last all night.
The alchemists of the Middle Ages regarded fire as an agent of transformation, since all things derived from and returned to fire. Among Christians, the light from the candles or fires lit on Easter Eve symbolizes Jesus' resurrection and rebirth.
The flower commonly referred to as the Easter lily was brought to the United States in the 1880s from Bermuda. Although it was not originally associated with Easter, it was so named because it flowered around this time of year. Lilies in general were a symbol of purity in medieval iconography, and the Bible mentions them frequently as representative of beauty, perfection, and goodness.
Americans were quick to attribute symbolic value to the fact that this particular plant produced its impressive white flowers at a time that more or less coincided with the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. And because it grows from a bulb that is "buried" and then "reborn," it serves as a perfect emblem of the death and rebirth of the Savior. With their trumpet-shaped blooms suggesting the angel Gabriel's horn, lilies herald both the coming of spring and the celebration of the greatest Christian feast. They can be seen decorating homes and churches throughout the Easter season.
The earliest celebrations of Easter in Jerusalem featured a ceremony known as the "Illumination": the lighting of a candle at the beginning of the Easter Vigil or Night Watch on the eve of Easter Sunday. The blessing of the new fire (see EASTER FIRES ) and the lighting of the Paschal candle is an adaptation of this ancient rite. As far back as the fourth century, a large candle decorated with five grains of incense (symbolizing the five wounds that Jesus received on the cross) was blessed on Easter Eve and lit with newly blessed fire to symbolize Christ and spiritual illumination.
In Roman Catholic and other Christian churches, the Paschal candle usually stands at the side of the altar during the Easter service. Placed there on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter), it is removed on PENTECOST.
In medieval times, parishes would compete with each other to see who could make the largest Paschal candle. One used at the altar in Salisbury, England, in 1517 measured more than 30 feet high. A giant candle made in 1558 for the altar at Westminster Abbey in London required 300 pounds of wax. After PENTECOST, the huge candles were usually melted down and made into narrow tapers for funerals of the poor.
The name "Pasch," which means Easter, derives from the Hebrew pesach or PASSOVER , which commemorates the deliverance of the people of Israel the night before their departure from Egypt. The Angel of God killed the first-born sons of all the Egyptian families but passed over the houses of the Israelites, whose doors had been marked with the blood of a young lamb. That evening, the Israelite families roasted the lamb and ate it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Jews still repeat this rite every year on the night before Passover.
Jesus' death at the time of the Passover festival forged a strong link between the Jewish feast and the Christian observation of Easter. Christians mark his death on GOOD FRIDAY . The lamb sacrificed on the eve of Passover was later identified with the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). As a symbol that can be traced back to the Book of Enoch, the lamb signifies purity, innocence, and meekness as well as unwarranted sacrifice-qualities closely identified with Christ. Christians all over the world traditionally serve lamb for Easter dinner. In parts of Greece, the master of the house selects the Paschal lamb from among his own flock, usually choosing the male with the whitest fleece. It is common in many European countries to serve a cake or an ice in the shape of a Paschal lamb, and the Paschal lamb candies made in Palermo, Italy, are among the most elaborate and artistic of Easter delicacies.
In past centuries, it was considered a lucky omen to meet a lamb, especially around Easter time. According to superstition, the devil could assume the form of any other animal but never the lamb, because of its deep religious significance.
Because Jesus' followers were recorded to have discovered his empty tomb at dawn, the early morning hours are a traditional time for Christians to gather for Easter Sunday worship. Centuries-old European folklore held that the sun danced for joy at dawn on Easter morning. In the United States, Moravian immigrants from Germany brought the early morning Easter service to American soil in the eighteenth century. Today many Protestant churches throughout the United States hold special sunrise services at dawn on Easter morning. Dawn services are also held at such locales as Grand Canyon National Park and some other national parks, the Hollywood Bowl in California, New York's Central Park, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Cirlot, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962. Crim, Keith R. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Frazer, Sir James G. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. New York: Macmillan, 1931. Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2002. Hazeltine, Alice Isabel, and Elva Sophronia Smith. The Easter Book of Legends and Stories. 1947. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. James, E.O. Seasonal Feasts and Festivals. 1961. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1993. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter Garland. 1963. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1999. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia: Chilton Book Co., 1971. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. Weiser, Franz Xaver. Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.
Christian Resource Institute www.cresourcei.org/cyeaster.html
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia home.it.net.au/~jgrapsas/pages/orth_pascha.html
Polish American Journal www.polamjournal.com/Library/Holidays/Easter/easter.html
For Greek Orthodox Christians, the sorrow of Good Friday lifts with the service of the Holy Resurrection on Saturday night in a dimly lit church. At midnight, all lights are extinguished, the door to the altar opens and the priest, holding a lighted candle, appears and proclaims that Christ is risen. The congregants light their candles from the priest's, bells ring, people turn to each other and say, Christos Anesti, "Christ is risen," and receive the reply, Alithos Anesti, "He is risen indeed."
Easter is a movable holiday whose day of observation has for centuries been painstakingly calculated. This is because its day of observance is determined initially by the lunar calendar, like Passover, but then must be put into terms of the solar calendar. The Council of Nicea in 325 c.e. set the formula for calculating the date of Easter still in use today. After many centuries of controversy among Christians, Western Christendom settled on the use of the Gregorian calendar (Eastern Christians use the Julian calendar to determine Easter), decreeing that Easter shall be celebrated on the Sunday after the full moon on or following the Vernal Equinox. If the full moon is on a Sunday, Easter is held the next Sunday. In the East, Easter can occur between April 4 and May 8, but it must come after Passover has ended.
The name for Easter may have come from Eostre, the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, whose feast was celebrated around this same time. There is also a Germanic goddess named Ostara who was always accompanied by a hare—possibly the ancestor of our modern Easter Bunny. The association of both the rabbit and eggs with Easter is probably the vestige of an ancient springtime fertility rite.
Although Easter has retained a greater religious significance than Christmas, many children in the United States think of it as a time to get new spring clothes, to decorate eggs, and to indulge in the chocolate and jelly beans that the Easter Bunny has left in their Easter baskets.
In Belgium, throughout Walloonia, the priest gives a number of unconsecrated priest's wafers to young children to sell to householders. The proceeds are given to the needy parish families, and the wafers are nailed over the front doors to protect the families from evil.
In Ethiopia, Easter is called Fasika and is welcomed in the capital city of Addis Ababa at dawn with a 21-gun salute.
Christian Resource Institute
4712 N. Hammond
Warr Acres, OK 73122
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
242 Cleveland St.
Redfern, NSW 2016 Australia
61-2-9698-5066; fax: 61-2-9698-536
Orthodox Church in America
P.O. Box 675
Syosset, NY 11791
516-922-0550; fax: 516-922-0954
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 238
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 423
BkFest-1937, pp. 6, 16, 24, 30, 42, 57, 70, 87, 96, 113, 121, 133, 148, 168, 185, 211, 219, 228, 241, 249, 260, 268, 276, 287, 292, 301, 309, 317, 330, 339
DaysCustFaith-1957, pp. 108, 353
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 129, 181, 212, 334, 561, 628, 687, 789, 854, 947
EncyRel-1987, vol. 3, p. 439
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 73
FestWestEur-1958, pp. 9, 24, 35, 61, 95, 108, 126, 130, 152, 164, 213, 231
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 167
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 224
GdUSFest-1984, p. 144
HolSymbols-2009, p. 215
OxYear-1999, pp. 621, 643, 791
RelHolCal-2004, pp. 78, 94, 111, 121
SaintFestCh-1904, p. 162
Celebrated in: Bulgaria, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Honduras, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine
Easter celebrations in Bulgaria last a full week, known as Svetla Nedelya, or the Week of Light, because folklore has it that the sun did not set in Jerusalem for eight days after the resurrection of Christ. One tradition during this week is the national dance known as the Choro, which is performed by a circle composed of equal numbers of male and female dancers who begin with a very slow movement that gradually quickens in pace.
Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria
1621 22nd St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-387-0174; fax: 202-234-7973
BkFest-1937, p. 70
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 82
Celebrated in: Bulgaria
Cuasimodo is the first Sunday following Easter. In the villages and little towns of rural central and southern Chile, religious processions take place, led by priests, who bring Holy Communion to those who are too sick or elderly to make it to church. This is a tradition that extends back more than 100 years, when many Chileans lived too far out in the country to travel to church on Cuasimodo. Because bandits were common and likely to attack the priest, he would usually be accompanied by cowboys known as huasos . Although there are no longer any bandits, huasos still like to display their horsemanship on Cuasimodo, when horse-riding contests are frequently held. Today cyclists also escort the priest.
Embassy of Chile
1732 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
202-785-1746; fax: 202-887-5579
FestWrld: Chile-1998, p. 20
Celebrated in: Chile
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 227
Celebrated in: Cyprus
Easter (Czech Republic)
For breakfast on Easter Sunday ( Nedele velikonocní ), Czechs eat mazanec, a traditional raisin-filled sweet bun spiced with nutmeg, topped with almonds, and marked with a cross before baking. Roast lamb or goat is the customary Easter dinner fare. The day itself is filled with preparations for traditional activities that take place the following day on Easter Monday, known as Whipping Monday.
On that day young boys and adolescents visit the homes of girls they admire to sing carols and whip the girls symbolically with pomlázka—pussy willow branches that have been braided into wands and decorated with colored ribbons. In return, the girls give boys such treats as kraslice (decorated eggs) or chocolate. The pussy willow branches symbolize youth and fertility. Though the custom is dying out in larger cities, the ritual, which is documented in writings extending back as far as the 14th century, continues in villages.
Embassy of the Czech Republic
3900 Spring of Freedom St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-274-9100; fax: 202-966-8540
EncyEaster-2002, p. 76
Celebrated in: Czech Republic
In preparation for Easter, the high feast commemorating the resurrection of Jesus, Coptic Orthodox adherents observe a period of Lent comprising 55 days of fasting. During this time all foods derived from animals are prohibited, including meat, fish, eggs, and milk. A diet limited to vegetables and beans is followed during Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, and during this period people attend church services every day. On Saturday night, they attend a long Easter Vigil service, which continues through much of the night, ending in the early hours of Easter Sunday morning. Families then return home to break the long period of fasting and celebrate with a feast of roasted turkey or lamb with grape leaves. Children receive small gifts of money or clothing. In Cairo the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church presides over a national Easter service in the Great Cathedral of St. Mark that is attended by thousands of the congregation as well as numerous government and religious dignitaries. A public holiday celebrating the beginning of spring is held on the day after Easter, and this is a popular day for picnics and visiting family and friends.
Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III
Coptic Orthodox Church Network
P.O. Box 6909
East Brunswick, NJ 08816
EncyEaster-2002, p. 171
Celebrated in: Egypt
Easter (Germany) (Ostern)
Perhaps a remnant of ancient sacrificial rites, bonfires are built on high points of land in northern Germany. Although usually built out of huge piles of tar-soaked barrels and old tree roots and limbs, in the North Rhine-Westphalian village of Luegde, bonfires are made by tying twigs and straw to seven-foot wheels, lighting them, and rolling them down the hill. The flaming wheels, symbolic of the sun, weigh about 800 pounds each. Every time one of them reaches the bottom of the hill, the spectators shout for joy, for it is believed that this will bring a special blessing to the land and a bountiful harvest.
Water is also associated with Easter celebrations in Germany. One old custom entails girls in the Harz Mountains, Thuringia, and other regions rising at dawn to draw "Easter water" from the rivers. If they do so in complete silence and then bathe in the water, they will be blessed with beauty throughout the year. Easter morning dew is used for the same purpose.
Easter smacks, or Schmeckostern, are traditional beatings that the men and women give to each other in various parts of Germany to bring them luck, to protect them from disease, and to keep them young and healthy. The men beat the women on Easter Monday, and the women beat the men on Easter Tuesday. The new life contained by a green branch is supposed to be bestowed on the one who is beaten with it.
German Embassy in Ottawa, Canada
1 Waverley St.
Ottawa, ON K2P OT8 Canada
613-232-1101; fax: 613-594-9330
BkFest-1937, p. 133
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 60
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 335
EncyEaster-2002, p. 227
FestWestEur-1958, p. 61
Celebrated in: Germany
Easter (Hollywood, California)
At the Hollywood Bowl, a huge outdoor amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills, California, the Easter sunrise service is a spectacle on a scale that only Hollywood could produce. First held in 1921, the service is attended by about 30,000 people who spend the night in the stadium. About 50,000 calla lilies decorate the stage, where a huge choir and a symphony orchestra perform the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah and traditional Easter hymns. Some 250 teenagers form a "living cross" just after dawn.
2301 N. Highland Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90078
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 59
Celebrated in: California
Easter (Italy) (La Pasqua)
In Florence, the Ceremony of the Car, or Scoppio del Carro, is held on Holy Saturday. Inaugurated by the ancient Florentine family of de'Pazzi, the custom involves a decorated wooden car filled with explosives, which is drawn into the piazza by white oxen and placed before the cathedral doors. A wire runs from the high altar inside the cathedral to the car in the piazza. As the mass ends, a dove-shaped rocket is ignited at the altar and sent shooting out along the wire. When it reaches the car, it sets fire to the explosives. Tuscan farmers believe that if the rocket does its job well, their harvests will prosper in the coming year. If it fails to ignite the carro or if something else goes wrong, their crops in the coming season will be poor.
Italian Government Tourist Board
630 Fifth Ave., Ste. 1565
New York, NY 10111
212-245-5618; fax: 212-586-9249
BkFest-1937, p. 185
EncyEaster-2002, p. 313
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 75
FestWestEur-1958, p. 95
Celebrated in: Italy
Easter (Netherlands) (Paschen, Paasch Zondag)
In the village of Denekamp, in the province of Overijssel, two young men who represent the comic characters known as Judas and Iscariot—Judas being "the clever man" and Iscariot being "the stupid man"—prepare the Easter bonfire and help set up the "Easter pole," which is a tall fir tree that has been stripped of its branches, cut down, and carried to the hill where the bonfire will be lit. Judas sets a ladder against the tree, climbs up, and starts auctioning it to the highest bidder. The crowd hoots and jeers at him and at Iscariot, who replaces him. At eight o'clock in the evening the fire is lit, and the townspeople dance and sing a very old hymn whose dialect words and meanings are understood only by local people.
In the eastern Netherlands village of Ootmarsum, the Vlöggelen, or "winging ceremony," is held on Easter Sunday and Monday.
See also Easter Monday in the Netherlands
Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions
355 Lexington Ave., 19th Fl.
New York, NY 10017
888-464-6552 or 212-370-7360; fax: 212-370-9507
BkFest-1937, p. 241
EncyEaster-2002, p. 120
FestWestEur-1958, pp. 126, 130
Celebrated in: Netherlands
Easter (Norway) (Paske)
Norwegians who observe the holiday at home dye and decorate Easter eggs after boring small holes in the ends and blowing out the yolk and white, or by carefully cutting the shells in half and then pasting them together again with strips of paper. The decorated eggs are hidden all over the house, and on Easter morning, everyone hunts for the eggs that have been concealed for them by other family members.
BkFest-1937, p. 249
FestWestEur-1958, p. 152
Celebrated in: Norway
Easter (Poland) (Wielkanoc)
On Easter Monday, people don old clothes and engage in a water-throwing game known as smigus. Children often throw decorated eggshells into a stream, in hopes that their Easter wishes will reach those who live beneath the earth.
Polish American Journal
P.O. Box 328
Boston, NY 14025
800-422-1275 or 716-312-8088
BkFest-1937, p. 260
EncyEaster-2002, p. 500
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 238
Celebrated in: Poland
Easter (Russia) (Paskha)
On Easter Sunday and Monday the men visit each other, but Easter Tuesday is reserved for the women to call on their friends. In rural areas it is customary for children to swing, dance, and play games and musical instruments on this day. Church bells ring throughout the Easter holiday.
Moscow City Tourist Information Center
Gostiny Dvor, 4, Ilyinka
Moscow, 103012 Russia
BkFest-1937, p. 292
EncyEaster-2002, p. 539
Celebrated in: Russian Federation
The shop windows of confectioners and pastry cooks are filled with elaborate displays of cakes around Easter. Sometimes a farmyard is made out of pastry, with hens, cocks, and monkeys. A special pastry known as a mona (female monkey) contains a hard-boiled egg, and elaborate and ingenious monas are often given as Easter presents.
In the region of Spain known as Catalonia, Holy Week pasos (tableaux) are formed by men standing on each other's shoulders to form a kind of circular pyramid, with a small child standing on the top. Easter pasos often illustrate a biblical scene, such as the Descent from the Cross.
Tourist Office of Spain
666 Fifth Ave., 35th Fl.
New York, NY 10103
212-265-8822; fax: 212-265-8864
BkFest-1937, p. 301
EncyEaster-2002, p. 565
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 84
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 239
Celebrated in: Spain
Easter (Sweden) (PÜskdagen)
On either Maundy Thursday or Easter Eve, children often dress up as witches and call on their neighbors, much as children in the United States do on Halloween. Sometimes they slip a secret "Easter letter" under the door or in the mailbox. Bonfires are popular in the western provinces of Sweden, with competitions to see which village can build the biggest fire. The witches and bonfires are reminiscent of pagan ceremonies to ward off evil, and in rural areas people still hang crossed scythes in their stables or paint crosses over their doors to protect themselves against the evil spread by Easter hags flying around on their broomsticks.
BkFest-1937, p. 309
EncyEaster-2002, p. 590
FestWestEur-1958, p. 213
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 240
Celebrated in: Sweden
The eggs are presented as gifts to friends and relatives on Easter morning. One of the decorated eggs that has been hard-boiled is shelled, sliced up, and served at the beginning of the Easter dinner to symbolize the end of the Lenten fast. Sometimes the eggs are used in a game where children try to strike each other's eggs with their own. But due to the eggs' religious significance and the work that goes into decorating them, the shells are never dropped on the ground or discarded. If broken, they are usually thrown into fire or water.
222 E. 6th St.
New York, NY 10003
212-228-0110; fax: 212-228-1947
EncyEaster-2002, p. 617
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 179
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 241
Celebrated in: Ukraine
Easter (Yaqui Indians)
When the Yaqui lived in Mexico, a group of ritual clowns known as the Chapayekas played the role of police during the Easter week celebrations. They wore masks made out of goat or wild pig skin with long ears and snouts ( chapayekas means "long slender noses") and huge horns. They maintained a ritual silence and communicated only by sign language. Today they still play a part in Yaqui Easter observances, performing dances during Easter processions and church services.
Pascua Yaqui Tribe
7474 S. Camino de Oeste
Tucson, AZ 85746
520-883-5000; fax: 520-883-5014
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 212
EncyRel-1987, vol. 4, p. 437
IndianAmer-1989, p. 274