History of Easter

In late March (19 - 21), the March Equinox occurs, on the day when the geometric centre of the Sun's disk crosses the equator, moving North, and is above the horizon for 12 hours, everywhere on the Earth. This traditionally signals the beginning of spring in the Northern hemisphere, and of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

Goddess of Dawn
Goddess of Dawn
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Many of the traditions of Easter have their origins in ancient spring celebrations.  Eostre was the Saxon Goddess of dawn, spring, and new beginnings. Her symbols included the rabbit, which she empowered to lay eggs, once a year, at the beginning of spring. The English Easter and German Ostern are named after the spring festival held in her honour, which celebrated the renewal of life after the long dark winter.

The Jewish religion celebrates Passover in spring. Christian tradition holds that the crucifixion and later resurrection of Christ occurred at the time of Passover, and so most European names for Easter are based on the Latin word for Passover: Pascha. Easter or Pascha is the most solemn time in the Christian calendar. Easter church services are joyous celebrations of the resurrection of Christ. 

White is the traditional color for Easter, signifying light, purity and joy. Early Christians believed the week before Easter was a good time to be baptized. They wore new, white clothes as a sign of their new life, and so the week before Easter became known as 'white week' . 

Europeans came to believe that a new piece of clothing worn on Easter Sunday would bring good luck, while old or used garments would usher in a year of misfortune. The tradition of an Easter parade began with strollers showing off their new spring finery. The New York Easter parade was immortalized in Irving Berlin's song.

Because the traditional Easter color is white, a white lily has long been considered to be the Easter flower. Of course, many other spring flowers bloom at Easter time in the Northern Hemisphere, including the white Cherry blossom. The Easter Lily, Lilium Longiflorum, is a Japanese white lily introduced into America in the 19th Century, and now grown commercially in America for the Easter season.

Traditional foods for the Easter feast include lamb or ham for the main course, and cheesecakes (Paskhas) made from fresh white cheese, cream or yoghurt, and eggs.

Ironically, because of changes in the calendar, the Western and Eastern Christian churches celebrate Easter on different dates most years, which may be different again from the date of the Jewish celebration of Passover.


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