Of all the holidays celebrated around the world, Easter Sunday is one that is preceded with a number of smaller celebrations and considerations. In this case, it is the celebration of a major event in the Christian Bible's New Testament. Every holiday has a rich and fulfilling history behind the meaning and purpose of the date, but this one is the culmination of several other milestones.
The exact date of this holiday is dependent on certain factors which causes it to change from year-to-year. As we cover the reasoning behind this, we’ll also explore the history and meaning behind the holiday and the preceding events that lead up to the date.
This in-depth examination of Easter will bring you more understanding and fulfillment when the holiday arrives, if you celebrate it, than ever before.
In 2015 the Easter date falls on Sunday, April 5th, 2015.
By comparison, the date for 2016 will be March 27th. Why the shift each year you ask? While it’s true that Easter always falls on a Sunday each year, the exact date is determined by several different factors:
Every year there are two equinoxes in March and September. This term refers to a time period where the Sun is shining exactly on the equator. This phenomenon causes night and day to become almost exactly equal in length. It’s not exact but during the equinox it’s closer than ever.
The equinox itself is the moment when the Sun’s light crosses a line known as the celestial equator. It happens each year on one of three dates: March 19, 20, 21. The name is derived from Latin. It translates to “equal night” which is referring to the entire world experiencing 12 hours of day and night respectively.
The Earth rotates at an angle of 23.5 degrees which causes it to tilt away from, or towards the Sun each day of the year. On the equinox however, the Sun’s rays hit the earth at an exact perpendicular angle which creates an equal spread of light and dark for that one day. In 2015 the March equinox is scheduled for Friday, March 20, 2015. Many cultures view the March equinox as a time of rebirth and resurrection, which is why Easter is celebrated so closely to this time each year.
There are a number of religious holidays that are directly affected by Easter’s date. These holidays coincide with the meaning of the celebration and are therefore dependant on the precise date of Easter itself and vice versa. These holidays include, but are not limited to the following:
These holidays are directly connected to Easter in some fashion and surround the date each year. Knowing the date allows these other holidays to be structured in a specific order around it.
None of these holidays fall on a specific date in the Gregorian or Julian calendar which leaves them open for interpretation by various sects of Christianity. In the Bible, the death of Jesus and his resurrection happened near the time of Jewish Passover which is typically celebrated on the first full moon after the March equinox.
Despite the various interpretations, Easter is celebrated sometime between the end of March and the beginning weeks of April. In 325 C.E the Council of Nicaea ruled that Easter should be held on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the March Equinox which is approximated as March 21st. If the full moon is on a Sunday, Easter is delayed by a week to keep it from falling on the same day as Jewish Passover.
Of course, this wasn’t a universally accepted ruling. The Quartodecimans, a sect of Christians, celebrated Easter on the exact day of the full moon which was two weeks into April. Since some churches still use the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian one, the dates still vary to this day. There are some years when the two calendars match up and the date is the same.
Some years when this occurred are 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2011. Most commonly, Western Christianity uses the Gregorian calendar, while Eastern Christianity tends to favor the Julian calendar. There have been more recent suggestions to modify the date and make it more universal. For example the World Council of Churches proposed in 1997 that Easter’s date be determined by astronomical observations instead of calculating it.
Choosing the date this way would fix difference in dates between the Gregorian and Julian calendars. It was supposed to be enacted in 2001 but it has yet to be widely accepted.
Easter Sunday is a holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This event serves as the foundation of the Christian faith. The term is derived from the Latin and Greek word “Pascha” which refers to both the holiday of Passover and Easter itself.
This event is the culmination of a time period referred to as “The Passion of Christ” which details his visit to Jerusalem and his execution by crucifixion. During the time period surrounding Easter several other major Christian events are noted and celebrated:
The week before Easter is known in Christianity as “Holy Week.” This week includes celebrations like Holy Thursday and Good Friday; the day Jesus was crucified. During this week, events like the Last Supper and the death of Jesus are commemorated. All of this leads into the actual celebration of his resurrection on Sunday.
The reason this holiday is so important is because of the significance it has to those of the Christian faith. In the New Testament of the Bible, the resurrection of Jesus Christ marks a major milestone for humanity.
As the resurrected Son of God, Christianity cites Jesus Christ’s death as a sacrifice meant to provide forgiveness for the sins of humans. Christianity is based upon this moment as the cornerstone of the religion. It is the significance of this event that makes Easter one of, if not the most important holiday in the Christian faith.
A major question surrounding the Easter holiday is where the Easter bunny and the colored eggs fit into the holiday’s meaning. Nothing in the Christian Bible refers to a bunny, nor does it speak of painted eggs and scavenger hunts. In terms of the Christian belief system, the presence of eggs and bunnies has nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
These things all come from pagan traditions that originated in 13th-century, pre-Christian Germany. They are traditions that exist separately from the Christian roots of the holiday. In this time period, there were a number of other religions that had celebrations around the Vernal equinox that occurs in March of each year.
A Teutonic deity Eostra is the focus here. She was known as the goddess of spring and fertility. Worshippers held feasts near the Vernal equinox to celebrate this goddess. She was depicted as a rabbit or bunny because of their high production rates, hence the Easter Bunny.
Eggs are present for several reasons. For one, it was a common practice to exchange and barter with eggs during this time period. The other reason is their symbolic nature; they were seen as symbols of new life and fertility. The coloring of the eggs comes from the legends of the Easter Bunny.
When Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion for Germany in the 15th century, the eggs were seen as a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection to make the pagan beliefs work within the Christian ones. The first time the Easter Bunny was documented was in the 1500s. By the late 1600s, stories were published about a rabbit who laid eggs and hid them in gardens.
This gave way to a tradition where people made nests for this legendary rabbit to lay its eggs. From here, the practice evolved into baskets filled with colored eggs, treats, and candy. These practices were brought to the United States in 1700s when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country according to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture.
Now that we know where the origins of a rabbit that lays eggs came from, let’s explore other cultures around the world and how they celebrate Easter. After all, the Easter Bunny is an American practice in today’s modern society. It seems normal to us, but other cultures have their own approach.
In this Scandinavian country, children go begging in the streets with their faces covered in dirt and soot. They carry broomsticks, coffee pots, and willow twigs with them. In Western Finland, people build and burn massive bonfires on Easter. This is based around a Nordic tradition.
The belief is that the flames will ward off witches who fly overhead on brooms between Good Friday and Easter.
In this country, people celebrate on the Monday after easter in a tradition called Smingus-Dyngus. The idea is to cover other people with water by any means necessary. This involves buckets, squirt guns, and anything in between. A legend behind the tradition states that girls who are soaked with water will be married by the end of the year.
The tradition comes from the baptism of Polish Prince Mieszko who was baptized on the Monday following Easter in 966 AD.
The tradition here comes from a story dating back to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. In the story, the conqueror entered the city with his army and stopped to eat omelets. Napoleon liked his omelet so much that he ordered the people of the city to gather enough eggs to make a giant omelet for his army the following day.
This gave way to an Easter Tradition on the Monday following the holiday where 4,500 eggs are used to be make a gigantic omelet that feeds 1,000 people!
This tradition occurs on Holy Saturday bright and early. Known as “pot throwing” people start the day off by throw pots, pans, and anything else fragile out of their windows. These items smash apart on the streets below. There are multiple origin stories for this tradition.
Some say that it comes from the Venetians who used to throw away old items at the turn of the year. Another theory claims that the destruction of the pots symbolizes the start of spring and renewal of the harvest season.
The city that houses the Vatican, the most important location in the Catholic religion, the Pope has a traditional celebration that occurs each year. It begins on Good Friday as he commemorates the Way of the Cross as the Colosseum. This is a massive cross that is adorned with torches that shine into the night sky.
During this celebration, the pope describes the 14 Stations of the Cross in several different languages. Another mass is held the night of Holy Saturday. On Easter Sunday, thousands of people come each year to St. Peter’s Square where the Pope performs a blessing from the church balcony. This blessing is known as “Urbi et Orbi” which means “To the City and to the World.”
For over 130 years, the White House has hosted an event known as the Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn. The tradition has children rolling a colored egg through the grass with a serving spoon. In recent years the event has grown however to include several other activities.
These include musical performances, egg hunts, and more.
As you can see, Easter is an important and celebrated holiday around the world. Whether it’s a sunrise service, an egg hunt, or a chocolate bunny, everyone can find something to love about this day each year.