On the 21st of April, Christians everywhere will celebrate Easter. A holiday that is so widely popular, and with a rich history, has the power to bring together people from around the world with their different cultures and traditions. Due to the inherent link between language and culture, we at the Language Learning Institute have decided to honor this holiday with a blog post dedicated to learning more about Easter.
For anyone who does not know what Easter celebrates, it is the conclusion of a series of events dedicated to remembering the death of Jesus Christ. This time, known as the Passion of Christ, begins with Lent, a forty-day period of sacrifice and fasting, paralleling the forty days of sacrifice Jesus spent in the desert. At the end of Lent comes Holy Week, which includes the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. The first two of these holidays each stands for a major event at the end of Jesus’ life — the Last Supper and the crucifixion — while Easter Sunday honors the culmination of it all: Jesus’ resurrection.
Though Easter is a moveable feast, and the date can vary depending on the Eastern or Western Christian calendars, it is always a Sunday in springtime. In fact, the date of Easter is determined by the sky, as the date is always the first Sunday after the Full Moon that falls either on or after March 21st. In some Protestant branches of Christianity, Easter is the beginning of Eastertide, the season of Easter. Similarly, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Easter is the beginning of the Easter season or Pascha. However, in Western Christianity, it is the period before easter that is considered most important, beginning with Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent.
Evidently, Easter is first and foremost a religious feast, celebrated with church services around the world. For Christians, sunrise services or Easter vigils on the Saturday before are common ways to celebrate this holiday. For some, the old-fashioned tradition of “clipping the church” is still practiced: members of the church gather around the building holding hands in a circle, often singing hymns. Another tradition, that of the “Paschal greeting,” is occasionally still practiced: on Easter Sunday, rather than greeting each other with a simple “hello,” people greet each other with the exclamation “Christ is risen!” and the response “Truly, He is Risen.” Aside from these customs, many Christians across cultures enjoy a traditional meal of lamb as Easter dinner, in honor of Jesus, known as the “lamb of God.”
However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that in our culture, there are a number of Easter-related traditions that seem completely unrelated to the Christian holiday. Some Christians and many non-Christians choose to participate in these traditions, which revolve around the concept of Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny. The origins of these traditions are unclear but seem to stem from pagan beliefs that existed before Christianity, such as eggs as a symbol of fertility. However, one can also see the symbolism as related to the Christian system: after all, Jesus’ resurrection is a form of rebirth, as chicks hatching from eggs. Being also the beginning of springtime, the connection with new life is clear to all, regardless of religious background. As for the Easter Bunny, a large mythical rabbit that delivers candy to children in the form of Easter Eggs, once again, the origins are not easy to track down. One belief is that German immigrants in the 1700s brought this idea to the United States. Because rabbits are considered extremely fertile creatures, it is understandable how we came to associate them with new life as well.
As you walk through the aisles of the supermarket the next few weeks, being surrounded by little colorful eggs and anthropomorphic rabbits, keep in mind the reason for all the celebration. As always, there is a history behind every holiday and tradition, and as language-lovers, we hope you appreciate the vastness of human culture!