Easter FAQ -- The Serious Side of Easter

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Easter FAQ. Cute little bunnies and chicks surrounded by colored eggs are fine, but here we explore the religious aspect of the holiday's fascinating history, including its pagan roots.
What is Easter?
Easter is the Christian celebration commemorating the resurrection of Christ from the dead, after his crucifixion on Good Friday. One of the most interesting things about Easter is that it is somewhat of a "melting pot" holiday, with traditions that are deeply intertwined with Christian, Jewish and Pagan practices. It is no coincidence that Easter comes at a time of year so close to the Jewish Passover and the Pagan Ostara celebration at the spring equinox.

How is the date of Easter determined?
Since the Council of Nicaea in 325, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox of March 21. Easter can come as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.

What are the roots of Easter?
Even though it is now considered a Christian holiday, Easter's roots are forever entwined with the Pagan holiday Ostara or Eostre. Eostre was an ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess that, legend has it, owned pet rabbits that laid eggs. In Pagan times an annual spring festival was held in her honor. Many Easter customs of today have come from this and other pre-Christian spring festivals.

What is Lent?
Lent is the 46 day penitential season which begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at midnight on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.

In many religions, Easter is preceded by a season of prayer, abstinence, and fasting. This is observed in memory of Christ's 40 days' fast in the desert. In many areas of the world, however, the period preceding Lent is a time of feasting and celebrations.

What is the significance of Ash Wednesday?
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It gets its name from the practice, mainly in the Roman Catholic church, of putting ashes on the foreheads of the faithful to remind them that man is but dust.

What is the significance of Palm Sunday and Holy Week?
Palm Sunday, which takes place one week before Easter, celebrates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Holy Week for Christians begins on this day. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Christ with his disciples. Good Friday marks the crucifixion and Easter Sunday, Jesus' resurrection from the dead and ascent into heaven to sit at the right hand of the father.

Why is lamb often served for Easter dinner?
Lambs are a significant symbol of Christ. Ever since the 9th century, the main course of the Pope's Easter dinner has traditionally been roast lamb. Easter lamb also has its roots in the Jewish holiday Passover. Lamb is traditionally served at Passover to commemorate the lamb that was sacrificed at the Holy Temple of Jerusalem on the eve of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

Why do so many cultures bake special Easter breads?
Bread is symbolic of the resurrection of Christ - flour comes to life and transforms itself to bread.