The History of Easter

The History of Easter

Depiction of the resurrection of Jesus

It is often hard to believe, when viewing colorful decorated eggs, plastic pink grass and chocolate bunnies and jelly beans in bright baskets, that Easter is the most important and meaningful religious holiday in Christianity.  The entire “season” of Easter encompasses three months.

Representing to Christians everywhere the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and his ascension into heaven, the timeline of Easter includes three parts:

  • Lent – the 40 days before Easter are days of reflection and penance, representing Jesus’ 40 days alone in the wilderness before starting his ministry.  He was believed to have survived many temptations from the devil, so this is a period of time when devout Christians “give up” favorite things.
  • Easter week – the week includes Maundy Thursday (representing last supper of Jesus and his disciples), Good Friday (day of the crucifixion), Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.  This is a floating holiday as opposed to a fixed date, as it coincides with the first Sunday following the Vernal Equinox on the Gregorian calendar for most Christians; several weeks later for Orthodox Christians who use the older Julian calendar.
  • Eastertide – The 50 days after Easter Sunday represents Jesus’ ascension into Heaven.

Where did the word “Easter” come from?  There is some disagreement between researchers and translators, but the two most common are:

  • Eostre – Roman goddess of Spring and fertility which represents the time of year.
  • Esostarum – which is actually a translation error word that came from hebdomada alba, the white week when all who are baptized wore white clothing.

The Spanish use the word Pascua and the French use Pasques from the Latin word for Passover, Pashua, for Easter.  Passover and Easter have become synonymous in modern times.

Aside from the religious history, as with Christmas, many folk and pagan customs found their way into the celebrations.  Why does an Easter bunny bring colored eggs and candy?  Best guess is that the prolific bunny rabbit represents the fertility rites of spring as well as the significance of the egg for birth.  German immigrants who came to America in the 1700s brought many of the fanciful Easter customs that delight and please children today.