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The story of Easter

Published On: Mar 15 2013 10:02:26 AM CDT
Easter bunny, eggs, basket

iStock / kzenon

Easter time is historically a widespread celebration of spring and rebirth.

Some say the name "Easter" derives from old Teutonic mythology, from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, to whom the month of April was dedicated.

It's a roaming holiday; the date is different each year. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., Emperor Constantine determined that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the full moon on or after the vernal equinox, or the first day of spring. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated between the dates of March 22 and April 25.

Though many people liken the holiday to Easter egg hunts, bunnies and chocolate, Easter is still largely a religious holiday: It's the most important celebration on the Christian calendar.

For Christians, Easter is a celebration of Christ's resurrection from the dead. It follows 46 days of Lent, during which time Christians focus on sacrifice, prayer and fasting. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which got its name from the practice of putting ashes on the foreheads of the faithful to remind them that man is but dust.

Palm Sunday, which falls one week before Easter, celebrates the beginning of Holy Week, as well as the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, when the populace cut boughs from trees and strewed them as he passed.

Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, is in memory of the Last Supper of Christ with his disciples, and Good Friday commemorates his crucifixion. Holy Saturday is the day Jesus was rested in the tomb. It's a day of reflection and waiting until the celebration of his rising.

Although Easter is primarily Christian, the holiday also has roots in pagan and Hebrew traditions.

The holiday was originally a pagan festival of springtime. When second-century Christian missionaries attempted to spread the word of Christ, they did so slowly and carefully, by allowing the populations to continue to celebrate pagan feasts, but to do so in a Christian manner. Thus, some of today's Easter customs stem from these early celebrations.

Easter is also closely tied to the Passover feast of the Jewish faith, observed in memory of the Israel's delivery from 300 years' bondage in Egypt. The resurrection of Jesus took place during the Passover, and early Christians celebrated the death-resurrection-exaltation on Passover day. But in the fourth century, Good Friday came to be observed as a separate occasion, and the Easter thereafter was devoted exclusively to the resurrection.

But whatever religious affiliation, Easter is widely recognized as a happy spring celebration, complete with feasting and family time.