Easter is much more than colorful eggs and bunnies. On this sacred holiday, Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the most important day on the church calendar. Christians rejoice in the that hope that God became a man who died for our sins and was resurrected, thus giving His followers eternal life.
This year, it falls on March 26. Learn more about Easter’s meaning, history and traditions below.
1. The Day Celebrates Jesus’ Resurrection
Jesus Christ was crucified and died on Good Friday. On the third day, Easter Sunday, he resurrected. In Matthew 28, it states, “After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.”
The women encountered an angel, who said to them, ““Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
As they are leaving to tell his disciples, they saw Jesus. The Gospel continues:
“Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
2. The Symbols of the Egg & Bunny Were Not in the Bible
Although there is no mention in the Bible of the symbols we now associate with Easter, the holiday has come to be represented by eggs and bunnies.
For Christians, the egg is a symbol of the Resurrection and new life. The eggshell represents the sealed tomb, and cracking the shell symbolizes Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Decorating hardboiled eggs dates back to the 13th century.
Easter egg hunts and egg rolls are also part of the holiday. The White House hosts an Easter Egg Roll for children 13 years old and under, which dates back to 1878. Watch a clip from last year’s event above.
The Easter Bunny who comes and brings children treats, has been a tradition for centuries. “According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania,” History.com reported.
3. It’s a Movable Feast, Which Means the Date Changes Each Year
In A.D. 325, the Council of Nicaea came up with the method that is used to calculate the date of Easter. According to Christianity.com, “…the reason the Council of Nicaea set up a formula for calculating the date of Easter was to separate the Christian celebration of Christ’s Resurrection from the Jewish celebration of the Passover.”
Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. As a result, it is always falls between March 22 and April 25. However, since the Pascal full moon can technically fall on different days in different time zones, the Church uses an approximation on the exact date, because if they didn’t, Easter could fall on a different day in different time zones.
Western Christians use the Gregorian calendar to determine the date, while Eastern Orthodox still use the Julian calendar. So although they employ the use of the same formula, the date of the Eastern Orthodox Easter ends up being different.
4. The Name Has Pagan Origins
The word Easter is rooted in the pagan religion and is said to come from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre. Her name was derived from “eastre,” the ancient word for spring. “It is believed that she is the goddess of the dawn and was worshipped in the spring by pagans in Northern Europe and the British Isles,” states Answers in Genesis.
This claim is based on the writings of Saint Bede, an English monk and theologian. His explanation was that Anglo-Saxons named the month of April after the pagan goddess and since Easter fell in that month, they used that name.
In European languages, the word comes from “Pascha,” the ancient Greek term for the festival used by the early Christians. The word “Pascha” comes from “Pesach,” the Hebrew word for Passover.
5. Mass Attendance Almost Doubles
Church leaders report that mass attendance can almost double on Easter.
“I don’t know of one pastor who won’t spend extra time on this particular message for the congregation and pray for the people who will be there,” said executive dean for the University of Mobile School of Christian Ministries, Reverend Joe Savage, told AL.com. “The churches I’ve been associated with have been praying for Easter for weeks.”
Many Christian denominations begin observing Easter on Saturday night after sundown with an Easter Vigil. The church is dark and a Paschal candle is lit. The service includes readings from the Old Testament and New Testament. In the clip above, Pope Francis presides over the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.