It is the time of year when chocolate eggs and bunnies are beginning to fill supermarket shelves and many people’s thoughts are turning to the religious story that started off Easter .
For many, the first bank holiday weekend of the year – with four straight days off work – will have a particular appeal.
But Easter is that most confusing of dates – one that is never fixed and changes according to the lunar calendar.
Perhaps you’re planning a break with the family or a weekend visiting friends. Or maybe you’re just looking forward to spending a long weekend relaxing at home.
Or maybe you are wondering what the religious origin of Easter actually is and what happened during Holy Week – Good Friday to Easter – to warrant us all marking it.
Easter or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
Most Christians refer to the week before Easter as “Holy Week”—it contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Maundy and Last Supper, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. In Western Christianity, Eastertide, or the Easter Season, begins on Easter Sunday and lasts seven weeks, ending with the coming of the fiftieth day, Pentecost Sunday. In Eastern Christianity, the season of Pascha begins on Pascha and ends with the coming of the fortieth day, the Feast of the Ascension.
What are the key dates for Easter 2017?
Palm Sunday : April 9
Maundy Thursday: April 13
Good Friday April 14
Holy Saturday: April 15
Easter Sunday: April 16
Easter Monday: April 17
So why does the date for Easter change every year?
Easter is a Christian feast day – these are significant days in the life of Jesus Christ or saints. Unlike most days in the Christian calendar, Easter does not have a fixed date.
Easter feast days are moveable days, in that they don’t fall on a fixed date in the normal Gregorian or Julian calendars, which follow the cycle of the sun.
Easter instead is determined by the lunar calendar, which is based on the phases of the moon.
Easter is scheduled to fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox around April 14.
The Spring, or March, Vernal Equinox is the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator – from south to north.
So, in Western Christianity, Easter will always fall between March 22 and April 25.
What is Maundy Thursday?
This year it fell on April 13, but in Jesus’ time it was the time of Passover – a Jewish celebration. It was because of Passover that the disciples and Jesus were sharing a meal together. The tradition was to have roast lamb (hence the tradition for Easter lamb today), bread and wine. It was Jesus last meal before he was killed, which is why it’s now called The Last Supper.
Jesus’ actions during the dinner have a crucial role in Christianity. During the meal he’s said to have taken the bread and wine and offered them to the disciples saying they were his body and blood. This is now emulated in Mass and services today in remembrance of what happened.
Maundy comes from Latin and means ‘to command’ – this is because Jesus ‘commanded’ them to think of him when they broke bread and wine together after he was killed. Now this is known in Church services as Communion.
What is Good Friday?
Good Friday is what Lent has been building up to – Jesus’ death. It may seem strange to call a day someone died as ‘good’ but at the time it really meant ‘holy’. Christians remember how Jesus was flogged and taken, as he carried the cross, to the hillside where he was crucified with two criminals, even though he had done nothing wrong.
He was nailed to the cross there and left to die. This is why a cross is used as a symbol of the Christian faith.
What is Easter Sunday?
It’s the most important day of the church year for Christians. It is when they believe Jesus rose from the dead three days after he was killed. It is often called the ‘resurrection’. The Bible says the women returned to the tomb and found it open, they were told to go and tell the disciples ‘He is Risen’ – the he being Jesus. It is only later, when Jesus is on the road and joins the disciples walking that he crops up again. In the Bible it says when they’re all gathered Jesus reveals himself to them, and doubting Thomas touches his wounds as proof of who he is.
What’s that got to do with eggs?
Eggs are often associated with Easter because they are a symbol of new life and fertility. Early Christians adopted them as a symbol of New Life, as it helped them remember Jesus’ resurrection. They can also be seen to represent Spring and celebrate rebirth and reinvigoration after the harshness of winter.
Eggs were used by Persians and Egyptians to celebrate New Year, which for them was in the Spring time. They would color the eggs and then eat them. In Europe, the colored eggs were seen as house decorations. In Eastern European countries they’re painted with patterns, which often hold meaning and tell the Easter story.
Wishing you a very Happy Easter that is filled with plenty of love and happiness.