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Easter and the Passover

Updated on April 5, 2015

The Celebration of Easter and the Passover

Easter celebrates the fertility of seeds for food and reproduction. This time is also associated with the Passover, Lent Pentecost.

The Origin of the Word Easter

A month in the German calendar was named after the goddess of Eostre in Anglo-Saxon for the month of April. The seven-day feasts that were held in honor of Eostre had faded out and were replaced with the Christian custom of the Passover season. One of the earliest primary records that make reference to specific days of Easter occurred in the mid-hundreds AD, the 2nd century, in a reading to the congregation.

Appearing about the same time were other festivals in celebration of martyrs held once a year. The individual dates for celebrating martyrs were fixed on the solar calendar, whereas the Jewish calendar was used for the date of Easter every year. The Bishop of Alexandria, who died in 312, contended that the 14th of the month, after the Spring equinox, was when the ancients celebrated the Passover in accordance to the divine command.

Why the Date for Easter Changes

The date was established by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. After much debate, they decided it should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the Spring equinox in the northern hemisphere.

The equinox occurs on March 20 or 21 every year. The actual date of Easter varies between March 22 and April 25. The Greek Orthodox church, the Far East such as the Middle East and India, base their dates on the Gregorian Calendar celebrating Easter between April 4 and May 8.

Christians became dissatisfied having to rely on being given the dates every year from the Jewish community. Some years the dates fell before the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. This conflict was resolved by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. The council proclaimed it acceptable to choose the dates for Passover independently of the Jewish community.

The date for Easter varies from year to year, referred to as a movable date. In countries with predominant Christian traditions, the Monday after Easter is a legal holiday. The full moon is not an actual full moon event, rather as stated above, the fourteenth day of the month was decided on. The fixed date given for the equinox is the 21st of March rather than the natural event which falls from the 19th to the 21st. According to this formula, Easter generally falls about a week after the first day of passover.

Easter Customs

Lent - Some beliefs in Western Catholicism follow a tradition referred to as Lent which lasts for a period of 40 days ending on Easter Sunday. It begins on Ash Wednesday and omits Sundays. This is a time of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for a testing period lasting forty days and nights. This was an important period of solitude, prayer and fasting. Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, and the Prophet Elijah fasted and prayed on Mount Horeb and Moses on Mount Sinai forty days and nights.

Holy Week - The last week of Lent and the week before Easter is considered Holy Week and dates back to the mid-200s A.D. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday in honor of the account of Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people placed palm branches on the ground before him. The message describes the capture, sufferings and death of Jesus. The teaching is followed by a blessing of five prayers and concludes with a procession out of the church and celebration.

All Saints Day - Appears to have been May 13 and now falls on November 1st, the day after Halloween. This event began in Rome as a holy day of the Catholics to extend honor to the martyrs and may have primarily originated in the 600s. The date of May 13th was evident during the 400s through the 600s in various regions. The true origins are questionable, however, some believe it began from the pagan, or secular, observance of the Feast of the Lemures in ancient Rome. Rites, a ritual to approach the after-world, were performed to exorcise malevolent, bad or fearful spirits of the dead, from the homes where the deceased passed away.

The practice of All Saints Day caused May to be considered an unlucky month for weddings. The May 13 date got suppressed in the 700s by Pope Gregory III. He changed the date to November 1st. The medieval churches in Ireland celebrated All Saints feasts on April 20, the Celtic holiday of Samhain.

All Saints Day and All Souls Day have been associated with the Celtic secular and Gaelic festivals in Scotland and Ireland since the 700s. These festivals during the medieval era were held to commemorate the end of the harvest and the beginning of the darker half of the year. It is the primary influence of the custom of Halloween. Samhain refers to November 1st and also means the end of summer and assembly.

Pentecost - This period of time begins on Easter Sunday extending for fifty days to Pentecost. The Greek word for fifty is Pentecost. The beginning of Pentecost is recorded in the book of Acts 2:1-4. While the disciples of Jesus were gathered together, a sound similar to that of a violent wind blowing, came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were. Each was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages.

The festival of Pentecost is also referred to as the Feast of Weeks, Deut. 16:10. A time to honor the holy spirit and teach the sacred mysteries of the Christian religion and the gifts of the holy spirit for the newly baptized. Many churches don't participate in this festival, perhaps setting it apart as a distinct denomination, or to refrain from displaying holy-ghost-ism. This event, however, is for all who believe in the Bible.

Reformation beliefs:

After the protestant reformation, many Christian groups regarded the Easter celebrations as unnecessary and some even deemed them as sinful. They viewed the traditions as a non-authentic practice because it isn't written in either the old or new testaments. Some perceive the celebration as having stemmed from pagan roots, or connected to the Roman Catholic Church and also reject the commercial aspects of the holiday.

The Quakers believe that every day is the Lord's day; that to elevate certain days over others may imply that non-Christian behaviors are acceptable on other days. The Quakers were persecuted during the 16 and 1700s for their non-observance of the Holy Days.

Customs and traditions.

The germanic customs may well have included rabbits and eggs. They referred to the event as Pascha in Hebrew relating to the festival of the Passover. The word for Easter in Spanish is Pascua, in French is Paques, and in Dutch is Pasen from the Latin language.

Boiled eggs - The custom of boiling eggs is followed in Latin and Oriental churches along with dying the eggs red to symbolize joy. Eggs are an ancient symbol of fertility. Fertile soil and seed are necessary to grow food and for reproduction. Although eggs are not on the list of foods for Catholics to consume during lent, chicks were allowed to hatch. The eggs were saved and included in the meal on Easter day.

Decorating eggs is a common custom. Filling baskets with boiled eggs and candy, hiding decorated eggs for children to find, wearing new clothing and preparing a special meal are also common customs for Easter.

Easter Rabbit - Eggs are symbolic for the new life that sprouts forth in early spring. Although rabbits don't lay eggs, they have a high reproduction rate, therefore, the Easter rabbit is a pagan symbol for fertility. The first legend of the Easter bunny was recorded in the 1500s. By 1680 the first story was published about a rabbit laying eggs and hiding them in the garden.

The legend of the Easter bunny was brought to the U.S. in the 1700s by immigrants from Germany who settled in Pennsylvania. Constructing nests for the eggs soon followed. This tradition eventually transformed from nests into baskets. Dyed or decorated eggs were exchanged for treats and trinkets.

Good Friday - The Friday before Easter Sunday is regarded as a holiday in 12 states in the U.S. It is a day to reflect on the good the Lord has done and to review Biblical verses relating to the cross and the Passover.

A spring break of one or two weeks has been common in the public school system, however, this has been declining in favor of a one-week recess in late April. There are many businesses in Scandinavia that close for a week at Easter.

Easter Parade - New York City holds a parade on Easter Sunday every year.

Eostra or Eostre - The Anglo-Saxon name of the goddess of spring and fertility which feasts were held in her honor during the Spring Equinox. Also, the name given for the month of April on the German calendar.

Easter or Passover?

The Corinthian gentiles of the new testament were urged by the apostle Paul to celebrate the Hebrew Feast of Passover. It isn't one with unleavened bread as in the Old Testament, but rather from the spiritual perspective of sincerity and truth; in remembrance of the Lord having redeemed all of mankind from sin and judgement.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was considered mandatory for all of Israel and lasted for eight days as a shadow of something greater. The Lamb of God died during the time of the Passover. As the blood over the doorposts symbolized God's protection for Israel in Egypt, it continues to protect us today.

Some of the early English Christians wanted everyone to accept Christianity and chose the name Easter for the Restoration service to match the secular spring celebrations that were taking place. This idea was more than likely applied for the main purpose of bringing those who were gathering anyway, to gather in church as well. The use of secular terms also made it more comfortable for people to attend church who generally didn't.

This resulted in a large number of believers and various pagan rites, or rituals, became intertwined into the celebration that honors Christ. Glorification of the sun god diminished with greater emphasis placed on the Son of Righteousness who rose on the third day after his death.

The time of Easter and Passover brings promise, fresh crops and newness of life.


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