The History of Christian Celebrations of Easter

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Like Pagans, Christians celebrate the end of death and the rebirth of life; but instead of focusing upon nature, Christians believe that Easter marks the day that Jesus Christ was resurrected after spending three days dead in his tomb. Some argue that the word Easter comes from Eostur, the Norse word for spring, but it’s more likely that it comes from Eostre, the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess.

Dating Easter

Easter can occur on any date between March 23rd and April 26th and is closely related to the timing of the Spring Equinox. The actual date is set for the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs after March 21, one of the first days of spring. Originally Easter was celebrated at the same time as Jews celebrated Passover, the 14th day of the month of Nisan. Eventually, this was moved to Sundays, which had become the Christian Sabbath.

Origins of Easter

Although Easter is probably the oldest Christian celebration aside from the Sabbath, it wasn’t always the same as what people currently think of when they look at Easter services. The earliest known observance, Pasch, occurred between the second and fourth centuries. These celebrations commemorated both Jesus’ death and his resurrection at once, whereas these two events have been split up between Good Friday and Easter Sunday today.

Easter, Judaism, and Passover

Christian celebrations of Easter were originally tied to Jewish celebrations of Passover. For Jews, Passover is a celebration of deliverance from bondage in Egypt; for Christians, Easter is a celebration of deliverance from death and sin. Jesus is the Passover sacrifice; in some narratives of the Passion, the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples is a Passover meal. It is argued, then, that Easter is the Christian Passover celebration.

Early Easter Celebrations

Early Christian church services included a vigil service before the Eucharist. The vigil service consisted of a series of psalms and readings, but it is no longer observed every Sunday; instead, Roman Catholics observe it only one day of the year, on Easter. Aside from the psalms and readings, the service also included the lighting of a paschal candle and the blessing of the baptismal font in the church.

Easter Celebrations in Eastern Orthodox & Protestant Churches

Easter retains great importance for Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches as well. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, there is an important procession which symbolizes the failed search for the body of Jesus, followed a return to the church where lit candles symbolize Jesus’ resurrection. Many Protestant churches hold interdenominational services to focus on the unity of all Christians and as part of a culmination of special church services throughout Holy Week.

Meaning of Easter in Modern Christianity

Easter is treated not simply as a commemoration of events that occurred at one time in the past - instead, it is regarded as a living symbol of the very nature of Christianity. During Easter, Christians believe that they symbolically pass through death and into a new life (spiritually) in Jesus Christ, just as Jesus passed through death and three days later rose from the dead.

Although Easter is just one day in the liturgical calendar, in reality, preparations for Easter take place throughout the 40 days of Lent, and it plays a central role in the following 50 days of Pentecost (also known as the Easter season). Thus, Easter can rightly be regarded as the central day in the entire Christian calendar.

There is a deep connection between Easter and baptism because, during the time of early Christianity, the season of Lent was used by catechumens (those who wanted to become Christians) to prepare for their baptisms on Easter day — the only day of the year when baptisms for new Christians were performed. This is why the blessing of the baptismal font on Easter night is so important today.