Easter Season

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Easter Season


From ancient times Christians have honored the fifty days including and following Easter Sunday as a holy season. Today we call this period of time Eastertide, or the Easter season. In those days, however, this seven-week festival was known as Pentekoste, the Greek word for "fiftieth." The early Christians celebrated each of the fifty days as if it were a Sunday. This meant that they neither fasted nor knelt to pray, both of which activities carried penitential overtones (for more on penance, see Repentance). Instead they rejoiced over the Resurrection, Ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the gift of redemption, and the hope of salvation.

Scholars believe that the early Christians patterned this festive season on a series of pre-existing Jewish observances. For example, Christians celebrated Easter Sunday on or near the date when Jews celebrated Passover. Christian scripture states that Jesus'crucifixion took place on Passover (or the day preceding Passover) and weaves Passover themes into accounts of his death and resurrection. After Passover Jews observed Sefirat Haomer, or "Counting the Omer." They dedicated this seven-week period to prayers for the spring harvest (for more on Sefirat Haomer, see Shavuot). After Sefirat Haomer came Shavuot, a spring harvest festival.

Sometime around the fourth century the long festive season attached to Easter Sunday dissolved into three separate festivals, each with its own themes. Easter Sunday, along with Easter Week, commemorated the Resurrection and the associated themes of redemption and salvation. The last of the fifty days of rejoicing became Pentecost, a holiday honoring the coming of the Holy Spirit. In addition, Ascension Day, a festival celebrating Jesus' ascent into heaven, attached itself to the fortieth day after Easter. The old fifty-day season that stretched seven weeks from Easter Sunday remained in place though its importance declined. The English dubbed this period of time "Eastertide." It is also known as the Easter season. Some call the first forty days of the Easter season "the forty glorious days," since they commemorate the time during which the risen Jesus still visited his disciples in bodily form.


Some churches observe the Easter season with special rituals and customs. The word alleluia or hallelujah, which comes from an old Hebrew phrase meaning "praise the Lord," rings out frequently in worship services. Among those churches that use the liturgical colors associated with the festivals and seasons of the Christian year, priests wear special white robes and church decorations feature the color white. In Christian symbolism white signifies joy. The paschal candle, a tall white candle decorated with emblems of Christ, stands near the altar during the fifty days. It reminds worshipers of the presence of the risen Jesus among his followers, the central theme of the Easter season.

Further Reading

Metford, J. C. J. The Christian Year. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1991. Slim, Hugo. A Feast of Festivals. London, England: Marshall Pickering, 1996. Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002
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