The spring holiday of Easter is the holiest day on the Christian calendar. Easter commemorates the day Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion, symbolizing the spiritual resurrection of all Christians.
Easter marks the end of Lent, a forty-day period of penitence and fasting. The holiday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring, which occurs in March or April.
While known as "Easter" in English and "Ostern" in German, most languages actually name the holiday using some form of the Greek word Πάσχα (pascha), which itself comes from the Hebrew pesach, or Passover. Slavic languages often call it the "Great Day" or "Great Night."
The week preceding Easter Sunday is known as Holy Week. Several days during the week have special importance:
- Palm Sunday: commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
- Maundy Thursday: the day of Christ's Last Supper with his disciples.
- Good Friday: the day Jesus was crucified and died.
- Holy Saturday: when Christ's body lay in the tomb.
- Easter Sunday: the day of the Resurrection.
Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny
Eggs are ancient symbols of fertility and rebirth, and colored eggs are a big part of Easter celebrations around the world. A popular color for colored eggs is deep red, symbolizing the blood of Christ. Many Orthodox countries have a strong tradition of elaborately hand-painted eggs.
Though it seems like a commercial invention, the Easter bunny has actually been around for about 400 years and probably started in the Alsace region of France. Rabbits and hares, as we all know, are prolific breeders and fit in with the Easter themes of rebirth and fertility.
Traditional Easter Foods Around the World
While not usually as elaborate as Christmas dinners, the Easter meal is a big part of most Easter festivals.
Common Easter Dishes
The main course for many Easter dinners in Europe is roast lamb. Ham is more common in the United States. Vegetables are usually appropriate to the season, things like peas, asparagus, spinach or artichokes. Torta pasqualina, a savory chard pie, is traditional in parts of Italy.
With the end of the Lenten fast, sweet breads rich with butter, milk and eggs are common on the Easter table. A few of the more well known are pane di Pasqua (Italy), Osterkranz (Germany, Austria), paasstol (Netherlands), kulich (Russia, Ukraine), babobka (Czech Republic), baba (Poland), tsoureki (Greece), potica (Slovenia), hot cross buns (England) and mämmi (Finland). Whole eggs are sometimes baked right into the loaves. In Slavic countries, kulich is paired with a sweet cheese dessert called paskha.
Easter Sweets, Easter Baskets and the Easter Egg Hunt
In the United States, before sunrise on Easter morning, the Easter Bunny brings gaily colored baskets filled with chocolates, jelly beans and marshmallow candies. He also hides colored Easter eggs around the house or garden for small children to find in their Easter egg hunt. In other countries, colored eggs are used for egg dancing, egg tapping or egg rolling contests.