What is Easter?
Easter is a Christian holiday that comes every Spring. It is not a set date, and changes every year. It is determined by the March Equinox. (Orthodox Christianity uses a slightly different calendar, so sometimes you can find 2 different dates for Easter).
Easter began as a Christian holiday to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that all humans have sinned or done wrong things in life. Christians believe that God is perfect and cannot accept anything less than perfect. The imperfections or sins of humans cause people to owe a debt to God that cannot be repaid because even the best person cannot be 100% perfect. Instead of dooming all of earth to death, Christians believe that God sent His son Jesus, as both fully God and fully man, to live a perfect life. He lived a perfect life of love and obedience, but was cruelly killed on a cross in order to pay for the sins of humans. Christians believe that by His selfless death, Jesus paid the price or the debt that was owed to God so that those who believe he did these things can share in his love and have hope and eternal life after death with God. Christians believe that on the 3rd day, Jesus did not stay dead, but overcame death and rose again to life to prove to His followers that He wasn’t just a man, but was God as well.
That is what Easter is to Christians.
Do I have to be Christian to celebrate Easter?
No! Even though Easter started as a Christian holiday and is still celebrated by Christians, many people who aren’t religious still choose to celebrate Easter with some of the non-religious traditions because everyone loves a holiday!
For many people who follow another religion or are simply non-religious, Easter can be a celebration of the beautiful Spring-time and the renewal of life after the cold winter.
How do Americans celebrate Easter?
I will list some of the religious and non-religious traditions.
Ash Wednesday – This is the day that begins the 40 day fasting period before Easter. Many people will attend a special church service and receive a cross of ashes on their forehead. If you see people walking around with black/grey crosses of ash on their forehead on this day, it probably means they attended a church service to begin this 6 week period before Easter.
Lent – This is considered the 40 days of fasting before Easter. During this time, people choose to fast from food. It can be similar to Ramadan where you fast from all food; however, most people usually fast from a specific food or habit. For example, many people give up chocolate or coffee during this time. And other people might give up something they really enjoy like watching tv. It is a personal choice and the purpose for those who choose to do it is to experience the suffering of Jesus. It is important to understand that not all Christians observe Lent.
Many people fast for the full 40 days, while others fast for 6 days of each week and then feast and enjoy on Sunday (in order to remember the belief that even though Jesus suffered, he came alive again on the 3rd day… This style of Lent provides a picture of this cycle of fasting and feasting).
Lent is very similar to Russian Post and has some similarities to Ramadan.
Palm Sunday – This represents a day of celebration, when Jesus rode into the city on a donkey and people were excited about His arrival. At that time, the old land of Israel was ruled by the Romans and the Jewish people were waiting for a King to save them from Roman rule. They thought that Jesus might be the next King or Revolutionary to lead them to freedom from the Roman Empire. They welcomed him to the city but they didn’t realize that his plan was not to destroy the Romans. Instead he was more of a religious revolutionary, asking people to love even the outcasts in society instead of harshly forcing their religious rules upon everyone and pushing out those who were different. So by the end of the week, most people didn’t like him anymore…
Many people attend church on this day. Some churches even provide palm branches, like the ones the people would have welcomed Jesus with like a King.
Maundy Thursday – This is the day that Jesus ate his “last supper” with his “12 disciples” or his 12 main followers. At this feast, he washed the feet of all 12 men. This is important to Christianity because it shows that Jesus came to serve people and most Christians believe that they should do the same. He also told them, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Even though all people make mistakes and even Christians often don’t act loving towards others, this is a core of the Christian beliefs: to love others as Jesus loved them.
Some churches hold a special foot-washing ceremony on this day. To show that they are committed to serving each other and sometimes the community. And to remember how Jesus served the people.
Good Friday – This represents the day that Jesus was crucified and died. Many people attend church services. This is considered a sad day to remember suffering. Many people choose to feel this suffering by fasting, or not eating any food, on this day. Others just decide not to eat meat. Some people eat a special kind of sweet bread on this day called ‘hot cross buns.’
Easter Sunday – This is a day of celebration and feasting. Many people attend a church service in the morning and celebrate a meal for lunch or dinner with friends of family. You can serve whatever you’d like, but a common meal usually includes ham or turkey or both!
Non-religious traditions that are celebrated by both Christians and non-Christians:
Easter Egg Hunts – Many neighborhoods and schools organize kids’ Easter egg hunts. You fill plastic easter eggs with candy, hide them, then the kids go searching for them! There are many varieties. You can play with or without candy in the eggs. Or you can even use boiled eggs instead of plastic eggs. You can even have your own Easter egg hunt at home with your family. Just hide the eggs around the house or yard while your kids aren’t watching, give them a basket, then send them on a hunt to collect the eggs! The winner is the one who finds the most eggs. Or you can play without a winner, and they get to eat their candy afterwards. Some people hide a “golden egg”, or a special egg that has a prize inside, like money or a special prize. When I was younger, my brother and sister and I used to take turns making our own Easter egg hunt at home. We would take turns hiding the eggs for each other.
Painting Easter Eggs – This can be really fun. Boil some eggs and stick them back in the refrigerator to cool. You can find an Easter Egg Dying kit at most nearby stores. Follow the instructions to fill several cups with water and place the different dye colors in each one. Dip the eggs into the cups and hold them in the colored water for several minutes to get the color you want. You can be really creative with this!
The Easter Bunny – You can find Easter bunny’s around town at different local shopping places. If your child isn’t scared, he/she can probably take a picture with the bunny! Some people tell their children that the Easter bunny comes and fills your Easter basket with gifts the night before Easter sunday if you’ve been well behaved. (Similar to Santa Claus).
Easter Baskets – You set out your Easter Basket (You can find special colorful baskets) the night before Easter and “The Easter Bunny” (or the parents) come to fill the basket with candy and colorful eggs. Even some adults get Easter baskets from their loved ones.