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Easter

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Easter is the most important holiday of the Christian year, observed in March, April, or May each year to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead after his death by crucifixion (see Good Friday), which Christians believe happened at about this time of year around AD 30-33. (Easter can also refer to the season of the church year, lasting for fifty days, which follows this holiday and ends around Pentecost. See Eastertide.)

In most languages of Christian societies, other than English and German, the holiday's name is derived from Pesach, the Hebrew name of Passover, a Jewish holiday to which the Christian Easter is intimately linked. Easter depends on Passover not only for much of its symbolic meaning but also for its position in the calendar; the Last Supper shared by Jesus and his disciples before his crucifixion is generally thought of as a Passover seder, based on the chronology in the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John has a different chronology which has Christ's death at the time of the slaughter of the Passover lambs (perhaps for theological reasons). This would put the Last Supper slightly before Passover.

The English and German names, "Easter" and "Ostern", are not etymologically derived from Pesach and are instead related to ancient names for the month of April, Eostremonat and Ostaramanoth respectively. According to the 8th century Christian monk and historian Bede, this month was dedicated to the pagan fertility goddess Eostre. The Easter Bunny is often identified as a remnant of this fertility festival, although there is no hard evidence of any link.

Contents

Date of Easter

Dates for Easter Sunday, 2000-2020
Year Western Eastern
2000 April 23 April 30
2001 April 15
2002 March 31 May 5
2003 April 20 April 27
2004 April 11
2005 March 27 May 1
2006 April 16 April 23
2007 April 8
2008 March 23 April 27
2009 April 12 April 19
2010 April 4
2011 April 24
2012 April 8 April 15
2013 March 31 May 5
2014 April 20
2015 April 5 April 12
2016 March 27 May 1
2017 April 16
2018 April 1 April 8
2019 April 21 April 28
2020 April 12 April 19

In Western Christianity, Easter Day always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25 inclusive. The following day, Easter Monday, is recognized as a legal holiday in most countries with a generally Christian tradition, but not as a rule in the United States, except formerly in a few states, all of which had dropped it by the 1980s.

Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (which follow the motion of the sun and the seasons). Instead, they are based on a lunar calendar similar—but not identical—to the Hebrew Calendar. The precise date of Easter has often been a matter for contention.

At the First Council of Nicaea in 325 it was decided that Easter would be celebrated on the same Sunday throughout the Church, but it is probable that no method was specified by the Council (unfortunately no verbatim account of the Council's decisions has survived). Instead, the matter seems to have been referred to the church of Alexandria, which city had the best name for scholarship at the time. The practice of this city was to celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the earliest fourteenth day of a lunar month that occurred on or after March 21. During the Middle Ages this practice was more succinctly phrased as Easter is observed on the Sunday after the first full moon on or after the day of the vernal equinox. The Church of Rome used its own methods to determine Easter until the 6th century, when it may have adopted the Alexandrian method as converted into the Julian calendar by Dionysius Exiguus (certain proof of this does not exist until the ninth century). Most churches in the British Isles used a late third century Roman method to determine Easter until they adopted the Alexandrian method at the Synod of Whitby in 664. Churches in western continental Europe used a late Roman method until the late 8th century during the reign of Charlemagne, when they finally adopted the Alexandrian method. Since western churches now use the Gregorian calendar to calculate the date and Eastern Orthodox churches use the original Julian calendar, their dates are not usually aligned in the present day.

At a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced an equation-based method of calculating Easter with direct astronomical observation; this would have side-stepped the calendar issue and eliminated the difference in date between the Eastern and Western churches. The reform was proposed for implementation starting in 2001, but it was not ultimately adopted by any member body. See Reform of the date of Easter.

A few clergymen of various denominations have advanced the notion of disregarding the moon altogether in determining the date of Easter; proposals include always observing the feast on the second Sunday in April, or always having seven Sundays between the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, producing the same result except that in leap years Easter could fall on April 7. These suggestions have yet to attract significant support, and their adoption in the foreseeable future is deemed unlikely.

Computations

The calculations for the date of Easter can be somewhat complicated. See computus for a discussion covering both the traditional tabular methods and more exclusively mathematical algorithms such as the one developed by mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss.

In the Western Church, Easter has not fallen on the earliest of the 35 possible dates, March 22, since 1818, and will not do so again until 2285; it fell on the latest possible date, April 25 most recently in 1943, and will next fall on that date in 2038.

Historically, other forms of determining the holiday's date were also used. For example, Quartodecimanism was the practice of setting the holiday on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan, which is the day of preparation for Passover.

Position in the church year

Western Christianity

In Western Christianity, Easter marks the end of the forty days of Lent, a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at Easter Sunday.

The week before Easter is very special in the Christian tradition: the Sunday before is Palm Sunday, and the last three days before Easter are Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as Silent Saturday). Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively commemorate Jesus' entry in Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are sometimes referred to as the Sacred Triduum (Latin for "Three Days"). In some countries, Easter lasts two days, with the second called "Easter Monday". Many churches start celebrating Easter late in the evening of Holy Saturday at a service called the Easter Vigil.

Eastertide, the season of Easter, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts until the day of Pentecost, seven weeks later.

Eastern Christianity

16th century Russian Orthodox icon of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ
Enlarge
16th century Russian Orthodox icon of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

In Eastern Christianity, preparations begin with Great Lent. Following the fifth Sunday of Great Lent is Palm Week, which ends with Lazarus Saturday. Lazarus Saturday officially brings Great Lent to a close, although the fast continues for the following week. After Lazarus Saturday comes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Easter itself, or Pascha (Πασχα), and the fast is broken immediately after the Divine Liturgy. Easter is immediately followed by Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday.

The Paschal Divine Liturgy generally takes place around midnight, into the early morning of Pascha. Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning, ensuring its place as the pre-eminent "Feast of Feasts" in the liturgical year.

Origin of Easter

Easter and the early Christian Church

There is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostolic fathers. However, an Easter Homily does survive from the 2nd century which indicates (http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/0150_melito_pascha.html) that the practice arose quite early in the history of the Church.

In the mid second century (c. A.D. 155) Anicetus became bishop of the Roman Christians. Shortly thereafter, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, traveled to Rome to discuss with Anicetus various practices in the Roman congregation; among these was the discussion of observing the resurrection of Christ in deference to his sacrifice and death.

Polycarp cited the teachings of the Apostles, while Anicetus cited the traditions of the earlier bishops of the Roman church. The historian Eusebius reports that Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (c. 176)(in a letter to Victor, bishop of Rome A.D. 189 - 198 -- see Pope Victor I), listed bishops of Rome back to Sixtus (or Xysyus -- c. 116 - c. 125) who celebrated the resurrection, but tolerated those who continued to observe the Passover; thus the practice can be traced to very early in the second century, but had not yet displaced the observance of Passover by Christians. Polycarp and Anicetus parted without coming to any agreement on this issue. (Samuele Bacchiocchi (2003). From Sabbath to Sunday (http://www.biblicalperspectives.com/books/sabbath_to_sunday/6.html). Retrieved 21 June 2005)

Establishment of Easter

After Anicetus, Soter became bishop of Rome. Under him Easter was established as an annual festival. The celebration was to be "the Sunday following the 14th of the Jewish month Nisan (the day of the Passover)." (J.N.D. Kelly (1986). The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. p. 11).

This ruling by the bishop of Rome was widely, but not universally, accepted. A rift developed, primarily between the eastern (Asian) and western churches. It became known as the Quartodeciman Controversy (see Quartodecimanism).

The observance of any special holiday throughout the Christian year is an innovation postdating the early church. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of local custom, "just as many other customs have been established", stating that neither Jesus nor his apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival (of course, the Bible states that Jesus and the Apostles did indeed observe Festivals). Nowhere in his history did Socrates Scholasticus state that the observance of Easter was due to pagan influences, however. In addition, if one wishes to take this specific sentence prima faciae, one could just as easily invent a justification for rejecting weekly worship services on Sunday, Saturday, or any other day, rejecting the ownership of church buildings by religious organizations, and rejecting the participation of Christians in any sort of political process, as none of these activities were specifically enjoined by Jesus or the Apostles, either. Furthermore, the entirety of the chapter (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.ii.viii.xxiii.xml) renders the statement in the context of defending diversity of dates for the holiday, without rejecting or denigrating the celebration.

Many commentators, however, have interpreted the last supper as a Passover seder at which Jesus presided. In addition, Jesus and the Apostles were observing Sukkot (the "Feast of Booths") when the Transfiguration occurred, indicating that he was not immediately opposed to the observance of annual holidays. As the far more common worldwide name of the holiday, "Pascha" (or variations thereof), indicates, the holiday arose from the Passover celebrations, but with emphasis upon the Resurrection of Jesus.

Religious observation of Easter

Western Christianity

The Easter festival is kept in many different ways among Western Christians. The traditional, liturgical observation of Easter, as practised among Roman Catholics and some Lutherans and Anglicans begins on the night of Holy Saturday with the Paschal Vigil. This, the most important liturgy of the year, begins in total darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, the lighting of the large Paschal candle (symbolic of the Risen Christ) and the chanting of the Exsultet or Easter Proclamation attributed to Saint Ambrose of Milan. After this service of light, a number of readings from the Old Testament are read; these tell the stories of creation, the sacrifice of Isaac, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the foretold coming of the Messiah. This part of the service climaxes with the singing of the Alleluia and the proclamation of the gospel of the resurrection. A sermon may be preached after the gospel. Then the focus moves from the lectern to the font. Anciently, Easter was considered the most perfect time to receive baptism, and this practice is being revived in some circles. Whether there are baptisms at this point or not, it is traditional for the congregation to renew the vows of their baptismal faith. This act is often sealed by the sprinkling of the congregation with holy water from the font. The Easter Vigil concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist and Holy Communion. Additional celebrations are usually offered on Easter Sunday itself. Some churches prefer to keep this vigil very early on the Sunday morning instead of the Saturday night to reflect the gospel account of the women coming to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week. Some churches read the Old Testament lessons before the procession of the Paschal candle, and then read the gospel immediately after the Exsultet.

Eastern Christianity

Easter is the fundamental and most important festival of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox. Every other religious festival on their calendars, including Christmas, is at best secondary in importance to the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord. This is reflected in the cultures of countries that are traditionally Orthodox Christian majority. Easter-connected social customs are native and rich. Christmas customs, on the other hand, are usually foreign imports, either from Germany or the USA. Eastern Rite Catholics in communion with the Pope of Rome have similar emphasis in their calendars, and many of their liturgical customs are very similar.

This is not to say that Christmas and other elements of the Christian liturgical calendar are ignored. Instead, these events are all seen as necessary but preliminary to the full climax of the Resurrection, in which all that has come before reaches fulfilment and fruition. Pascha (Easter) is the primary act that fulfils the purpose of Christ's ministry on earth—to defeat death by dying and to purify and exalt humanity by voluntarily assuming and overcoming human frailty. This is succinctly summarized by the Orthodox Easter hymn "Christ is Risen":

English
Greek
Russian

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν, θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι, ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Христос воскресе из мертвых,
Смертию смерть поправ,
И сущим во гробех
живот Даровав!

Celebration of the holiday begins with the "anti-celebration" of Great Lent. In addition to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, Orthodox are supposed to reduce all entertainment and non-essential activity, gradually eliminating them until Holy Friday. Traditionally, on the evening of Holy Saturday, Pascha vespers begin and these services last until midnight (local time). At midnight, the vespers end and all light in the church building is extinguished. The Pascha liturgy begins at midnight, with the Priest lighting candles held by deacons or other assistants, who then go to light candles held by the congregation. Entirely lit by candle, the priest and congregation process around the church building and return for the completion of the liturgy—again entirely lit by candles held by the congregation. The hymn "Christ is Risen" is sung many times within this service. Immediately after the Pascha liturgy, it is then customary for the congregation to share a meal, essentially an agape dinner (albeit at 2.00 am or later!)

The day after, Easter Sunday proper, there is no liturgy, since the liturgy for that day has already been done. Instead, in the afternoon, it is often traditional to hold "Agape vespers". In this service, it has become customary during the last few centuries for the priest and members of the congregation to read a portion of the Gospel of John (20:19–25 or 19–31) in as many languages as they can manage.

For the remainder of the week (known as "Bright Week"), all fasting is prohibited, and the customary greeting is "Christ is risen!", to be responded with "Truly He is risen!" (See also Pascha greeting)


Non-religious Easter traditions

As with many other Christian dates, the celebration of Easter extends beyond the church. Since its origins, it has been a time of celebration and feasting. Today it is commercially important, seeing wide sales of greeting cards and confectionery such as chocolate Easter eggs, marshmallow bunnies, Peeps, and jelly beans.

North America

In the United States, the Easter holiday has been largely secularized, so that many American families participate only in the attendant revelry, central to which is decorating Easter eggs on Saturday evening and hunting for them Sunday morning, by which time they have been mysteriously hidden all over the house and garden. According to the children's stories, the eggs were hidden overnight and other treats delivered by the Easter Bunny in an Easter basket which children find waiting for them when they wake up. The Easter Bunny's motives for doing this are seldom clarified.

Scandinavia

In Norway, in addition to skiing in the mountains and painting eggs for decorating, it is tradition to solve murders at Easter. All the major television channels show crime and detective stories (such as Poirot), magazines print stories where the readers can try to figure out who did it, and many new books are published. Even the milk cartons change to have murder stories on their sides.

Central Europe

In the Czech Republic, a tradition of whipping is carried out on Easter Monday. In the morning, males whip females with a special handmade whip called pomlẫa. The pomlẫa consists of eight, twelve or even twenty-four withies (willow rods) and is usually from half a meter to two meters long and decorated with coloured ribbons at the end. It must be mentioned that while whipping can be painful, the purpose is not to cause suffering. Rather, the purpose is for males to exhibit their attraction to females; unvisited females can even feel offended. The whipped female gives a coloured egg to the male as a sign of her thanks and forgiveness. A legend says that females should be whipped in order to keep their health and fertility during whole next year. The females can get revenge in the afternoon when they can pour a bucket of cold water on any male. The habit slightly varies across the Czech Republic. Some feminists allege it is a disgusting medieval tradition.

A similar tradition existed in Poland (where it is called Dyngus Day), but it is now little more than an all-day waterfight.

In Hungary (where it is called Ducking Monday), perfume or perfumed water is often sprinkled in exchange for an Easter egg.

Easter controversies

Anti-Easter Christians

Some Christian fundamentalists reject nearly all the customs surrounding Easter, believing them to be irrevocably tainted with paganism and idolatry.

Possible pagan influences on Easter traditions

Missing image
Easter_bunny.jpg
An Easter Bunny

In his 'De Temporum Ratione' the Venerable Bede wrote that the month Eostremonat was so named because of a goddess, Eostre, who had formerly been worshipped in that month. In recent years some scholars (Ronald Hutton, P.D. Chantepie de la Saussaye, Elizabeth Freeman) have suggested that a lack of supporting documentation for this goddess might indicate that Bede assumed her existence based on the name of the month. Others note that Bede's status as "the Father of English History", having been the author of the first substantial history of England ever written, might make the lack of additional mention for a goddess whose worship had already died out by Bede's time unsurprising. The debate receives considerable attention because the name 'Easter' is derived from Eostremonat, and thus, according to Bede, from the pagan goddess Eostre.

Jakob Grimm took up the question of Eostre in his Deutsche Mythologie of 1835, noting that Ostaramanoth was etymologically related to Eostremonat and writing of various landmarks and customs related to the goddess Ostara in Germany. Again, because of a lack of written documentation, critics suggest that Grimm took Bede's mention of a goddess Eostre at face value and constructed the goddess Ostara around existing Germanic customs which may have arisen independantly. Others point to Grimm's stated intent to gather and record oral traditions which might otherwise be lost as explanation for the lack of further documentation. Amongst other traditions, Grimm connected the 'Ostern Hare' (Easter Bunny) and Easter Eggs to the goddess Ostara/Eostre. He also cites various place names in Germany as being evidence of Ostara, but critics contend that the close etymological relationship between Ostara and the words for 'east' and 'dawn' could mean that these place names referred to either of those two things rather than a goddess.

Bede's Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ("Ecclesiastic History of the English People") contains a letter from Pope Gregory I to Saint Mellitus, who was then on his way to England to conduct missionary work among the heathen Anglo-Saxons. The Pope suggests that (http://www.englishheathenism.homestead.com/popesletter.html) converting heathens is easier if they are allowed to retain the outward forms of their traditional pagan practices and traditions, while recasting those traditions spiritually towards the one true God instead of to their pagan gods (whom the Pope refers to as "devils"), "to the end that, whilst some gratifications are outwardly permitted them, they may the more easily consent to the inward consolations of the grace of God". The Pope sanctions such conversion tactics as biblically acceptable, pointing out that God did much the same thing with the ancient Israelites and their pagan sacrifices. This practice might explain the incorporation of Eostre traditions into the Christian holiday.

However, the giving of eggs at spring festivals was not restricted to Germanic peoples and could be found among the Persians, Romans, Jews and the Armenians. They were a widespread symbol of rebirth and resurrection and thus might have been adopted from any number of sources.

Easter as a Sumerian festival

Some suggest an etymological relationship between Eostre and the Sumerian goddess Ishtar ([1] (http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t020.html) [2] (http://www.lasttrumpetministries.org/tracts/tract1.html) [3] (http://www.pathlights.com/theselastdays/tracts/tract_22n.htm) [4] (http://www.tiral.com/2004/04/the_origins_of_.html)) and the possibility that aspects of an ancient festival accompanied the name, claiming that the worship of Bel and Astarte was anciently introduced into Britain, and that the hot cross buns of Good Friday and dyed eggs of Easter Sunday figured in the Chaldean rites just as they do now.

Miscellaneous

Word for "Easter" in various languages

Names related to Eostremonat (Eostre Month):

Names derived from the Hebrew Pesach (Passover):

Names used in other languages

  • Belarusian Вялікдзень or Vialikdzen' (literally: the Grand Day)
  • Bulgarian Великден (Velikden) (literally: the Grand Day)
  • Template:Zh-stp; literally "Resurrection Festival"
  • Croatian Uskrs (literally: resurrection)
  • Czech Velikonoce (plural, no singular exists; made from Grand Nights)
  • Estonian Lihav?d (literally: meat taking)
  • Hungarian H? (means taking (or buying) meat)
  • Japanese 復活祭 (Fukkatsu-sai; lit. resurrection festival)
  • Polish Wielkanoc (literally: the Grand Night)
  • Serbian Uskrs or Vaskrs (literally: resurrection)
  • Slovak Veľk᠎oc (singular; literally: the Grand Night)
  • Slovenian Velika noč (singular; literally: the Grand night)
  • Unkrainian Великдень (Velykdenj) (literally: the Grand Day)

External links

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