As with almost
all "Christian" holidays, Easter has been secularized and commercialized.
The dichotomous nature of Easter and its symbols, however, is not necessarily
a modern fabrication.
Since its conception as a holy
celebration in the second century, Easter has had its non-religious side.
In fact, Easter was originally a pagan festival.
The ancient Saxons
celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival commemorating
their goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eastre. When the second-century
Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the north with
their pagan celebrations, they attempted to convert them to Christianity.
They did so, however, in a clandestine manner.
It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to celebrate
their holy days with observances that did not coincide with celebrations
that already existed. To save lives, the missionaries cleverly decided
to spread their religious message slowly throughout the populations by
allowing them to continue to celebrate pagan feasts, but to do so in a
As it happened, the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time
of year as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. It
made sense, therefore, to alter the festival itself, to make it a Christian
celebration as converts were slowly won over. The early name, Eastre,
was eventually changed to its modern spelling, Easter.
The Date of Easter
Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was variously celebrated on different days
of the week, including Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In that year, the
Council of Nicaea was convened by emperor Constantine. It issued the Easter
Rule which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday
that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.
However, a caveat must be introduced here. The "full moon" in
the rule is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth
day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the ecclesiastical
New Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as the astronomical
full moon. The ecclesiastical "vernal equinox" is always on
March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the
dates of March 22 and April 25.
The Lenten Season
Lent is the forty-six day period just prior to Easter Sunday. It begins
on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is a
celebration, sometimes called "Carnival," practiced around the
world, on the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. It was designed as a way
to "get it all out" before the sacrifices of Lent began. New
Orleans is the focal point of Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. Read
about the religious meanings of the Lenten Season.
The Cross is
the symbol of the Crucifixion, as opposed to the Resurrection. However,
at the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325, Constantine decreed that
the Cross was the official symbol of Christianity. The Cross is
not only a symbol of Easter, but it is more widely used, especially
by the Catholic Church, as a year-round symbol of their faith.
The Easter Bunny
is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with the pagan
festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons
through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.
brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. It was widely
ignored by other Christians until shortly after the Civil War. In
fact, Easter itself was not widely celebrated in America until after
As with the
Easter Bunny and the holiday itself, the Easter Egg predates the
Christian holiday of Easter. The exchange of eggs in the springtime
is a custom that was centuries old when Easter was first celebrated
From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures.
Eggs were often wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a peasant, colored
brightly by boiling them with the leaves or petals of certain flowers.
Today, children hunt colored eggs and place them in Easter baskets along
with the modern version of real Easter eggs -- those made of plastic or