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What is Easter?

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## What is Easter? ![](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/images/holidays/easter_lillies.J PG) In the [Christian religion](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/index.htm), Easter is the holiday that celebrates and commemorates the central event of the Christian faith: the resurrection of [Jesus Christ](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/beliefs/christ.htm) three days after his death by crucifixion. All major [branches of Christianity](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominations.htm) observe the holiday. Today, other than church attendance, the holiday often involves Easter Eggs for toys and candy as well as the imagery of bunnies and rabbits (see more below). Easter occurs the Sunday after [Good Friday](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays/good_friday.htm). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of the Christian faith, according to the [Apostle Paul](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/pe ople/the_apostle_paul.htm), who even says that if Jesus Christ has not been resurrected then the Christian faith is worthless and futile (1 Cor. 15:14-17). Therefore, without Easter there is no Christianity. Easter is the oldest Christian holiday and the most important day of the church year. All the Christian movable feasts and the entire liturgical year of worship are arranged around Easter. Easter is preceded by the season of [Lent](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays/lent.htm), a 40-day period of fasting and repentance culminating in Holy Week, and followed by a 50-day Easter Season that stretches from Easter to Pentecost. \- See more at: http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays/easter.htm# sthash.hjnTDi8s.dpuf ### How is the Date of Easter Decided? The method for determining the date of Easter is complex and has been a matter of controversy (see History of Easter, below). Put as simply as possible, the Western churches ([Catholic](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denom inations/catholicism.htm) and [Protestant](http://www.religionfacts.com/ch ristianity/denominations/protestantism.htm)) celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. (See comparison charts: [Catholicism and Protestantism](http://www.religionfacts.com/christi anity/charts/catholic_protestant.htm) and [Christian Denominations](http:/ /www.religionfacts.com/christianity/charts/denominations_beliefs.htm)). ![](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/images/symbols/easter_eggs_blue_ smthb.jpg) But it is actually a bit more complicated than this. The spring equinox is fixed for this purpose as March 21 and the "full moon" is actually the paschal moon, which is based on 84-year "paschal cycles" established in the sixth century, and rarely corresponds to the astronomical full moon. These complex calculations yield an Easter date of anywhere between March 22 and April 25. The [Eastern churches](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominatio ns/orthodoxy.htm) (Greek, Russian, and other forms of Orthodoxy) use the same calculation, but based on the Julian calendar (on which March 21 is April 3) and a 19-year paschal cycle. Thus the Orthodox Easter sometimes falls on the same day as the western Easter (it does in 2010 and 2011), but the two celebrations can occur as much as five weeks apart. In the 20th century, discussions began as to a possible worldwide agreement on a consistent date for the celebration of the central event of Christianity. No resolution has yet been reached. {4} Recent and upcoming dates {5} for Passover ([Judaism](http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/index.htm)), Easter (Western Christianity), and Pascha (Eastern Orthodox Christianity) are:  | [Passover](http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/holidays/pesach.htm)| Easter| Pascha ---|---|---|--- 2013| March 25-April 2| March 31| May 5 2014| April 14-22| April 20| April 20 2015| April 3-11| April 5| April 12 2016| April 22-30| March 27| May 1 2017| April 10-18| April 16| April 16 #### What is the History of Easter? Most Popular  Christianity Pages 1. [Catholic and Protestant comparison chart](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/charts/catholic_pr otestant.htm) 2. [Christianity, Islam, Judaism comparison chart](http://www.religionfacts.com/islam/comparison_charts/islam_j udaism_christianity.htm) 3. [Christian denominations comparison chart](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/charts/denominatio ns_beliefs.htm) 4. [Christian symbols](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/symbols.htm) 5. [Christianity Fast Facts](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/fastfacts.htm) 6. [The Seven Deadly Sins](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/beliefs/the_seven_deadly_sins.htm) 7. [Christian holidays](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays.htm) (e.g. [Easter](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays/easter.htm) and [Christmas](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays/christm as.htm)) 8. [Jesus Christ](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays/christ.htm) 9. [Christianity and Islam comparison chart](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/charts/christianit y_islam.htm) 10. [Speaking in tongues](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/denominations/pentecostalism/speaking_in_tongues.htm) There is evidence that Christians originally celebrated the resurrection of Christ every Sunday, with observances such as Scripture readings, psalms, the Eucharist, and a prohibition against kneeling in prayer. {6} At some point in the first two centuries, however, it became customary to celebrate the resurrection specially on one day each year. Many of the religious observances of this celebration were taken from the [Jewish Passover](http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/holidays/pesach.htm). The specific day on which the resurrection should be celebrated became a major point of contention within the church. First, should it be on Jewish Passover no matter on what day that falls, or should it always fall on a Sunday? It seems Christians in Asia took the former position, while those everywhere else insisted on the latter. The eminent church fathers Irenaeus and [Polycarp](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/people/polycarp.htm) were among the Asiatic Christians, and they claimed the authority of [St. John the Apostle](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/people/john_the_ap ostle.htm) for their position. Nevertheless, the church majority officially decided that Easter should always be celebrated on a Sunday. Eusebius of Caesarea, our only source on this topic, reports the affair as follows: > A question of no small importance arose at that time [c. 190 AD]. The dioceses of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should always be observed as the feast of the life-giving pasch, contending that the fast ought to end on that day, whatever day of the week it might happen to be. However it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this point, as they observed the practice, which from Apostolic tradition has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the Resurrection of our Saviour. Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all with one consent through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree that the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other day but the Sunday and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on that day only. {7} With this issue resolved, the next problem was to determine _which_ Sunday to celebrate the resurrection. The Christians in Syria and Mesopotamia held their festival on the Sunday after the Jewish Passover (which itself varied a great deal), but those in Alexandria and other regions held it on the first Sunday after the spring equinox, without regard to the Passover. This second issue was decided at the Council of Nicea in 325, which decreed that Easter should be celebrated by all on the same Sunday, which Sunday shall be the first following the paschal moon (and the paschal moon must not precede the spring equinox), and that a particular church should determine the date of Easter and communicate it throughout the empire (probably Alexandria, with their skill in astronomical calculations). The policy was adopted throughout the empire, but Rome adopted an 84-year lunar cycle for determining the date, whereas Alexandria used a 19-year cycle. {8} Use of these different "paschal cycles" persists to this day and contributes to the disparity between the eastern and western dates of Easter. #### What does the word "Easter" mean? The origins of the word "Easter" are not certain, but probably derive from Estre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring {2}. The German word _Ostern_ has the same derivation, but most other languages follow the Greek term used by the early Christians: _pascha_, from the Hebrew _pesach_ ([Passover](http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/holidays/pesach.htm)). In Latin, Easter is _Festa Paschalia_ (plural because it is a seven-day feast), which became the basis for the French _Pâques_, the Italian _Pasqua_, and the Spanish _Pascua_. Also related are the Scottish _Pask_, the Dutch _Paschen_, the Danish _Paaske_, and the Swedish _Pask_. {3} #### Religious Observances on Easter Sunday Common elements found in most Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant religious Easter celebrations include [baptism](http://www.religionfacts.com /christianity/practices/baptism.htm), the [Eucharist](http://www.religionf acts.com/christianity/practices/the_eucharist.htm), feasting, and greetings of "Christ is risen!" and "He is risen indeed!" ![](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/images/baptistery-mozart- salzburg-sm.jpg) In Roman Catholicism, and some Lutheran and Anglican churches, Easter is celebrated with a vigil that consists of "the blessing of the new fire (a practice introduced during the early Middle Ages); the lighting of the paschal candle; a service of lessons, called the prophecies; followed by the blessing of the font and baptisms and then the mass of Easter." {9} The traditional customs of the Catholic church are described in detail in the online _Catholic Encyclopedia _{10}. In Orthodox churches, the vigil service is preceded by a procession outside the church. When the procession leaves the church, there are no lights on. The procession conducts a symbolic fruitless search for Christ's body, then joyfully announces, "Christ is risen!" When the procession returns to the church, hundreds of candles and lamps are lit to symbolize the splendor of Christ's resurrection, and the Easter Eucharist is taken. {11} Protestant observances also include baptism and the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper), and often a sunrise service (to commemorate Mary Magdalene's arrival at the empty tomb "early, while it was still dark") and special hymns and songs. #### Easter Eggs and Christianity ![](http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/images/symbols/easter_eggs_blue_ smthb.jpg) What do eggs have to do with Easter? Over the centuries, Easter Sunday has been supplemented by popular customs, many of were incorporated from springtime fertility celebrations of European and Middle Eastern pagan religion. Rabbits and eggs, for example, are widely-used pagan symbols for fertility. Some Christians disassociate themselves entirely from Easter eggs because of their pagan connotations. Other Christians view Easter eggs, or other candies and treats, as symbols of joy and celebration (as they were forbidden during the fast of Lent) and as a "taste" of new life and resurrection that they have in Jesus Christ. A common custom is to hide brightly colored eggs for children to find. \- See more at: http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/holidays/easter.htm# sthash.hjnTDi8s.dpuf

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1 Cary W = "Easter celebration began as the Christian church desired to remember the resurrection of Christ, around Springtime, the same as the Jewish celebration of Passover, for the Passover was a type and example of what God would perform in Christ Jesus upon His sacrificial death and resurrection."
2 Cary W = "The celebration of Christ twice a year with all the embellishments of trees, presents, eggs, foods and adornments tends to dilute the meanings and original message of Christmas and Easter.  Those that hold to the simple intents of these days most likely will find the depth of these two sacred celebrations."
3 Cary W = "How a person chooses to honor God, Christ, the resurrection and even holidays like Easter is up to personal choice...God sees the intent of the heart.  My own preference is based on Jesus encouragement to give little attention to the rituals of men, so I treat most everyday as a holy day, and remember my Lord and His example continually."