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History, Significance And Facts About Easter Traditions

PIC. 24. DRAMA ON THE PASSION OF CHRIST BY THE PEOPLE OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS CATHOLIC CHURCH, GWAGWALADA IN ABUJA ON FRIDAY (18/4/14). 2437/18/04/14/CH/HF/NAN

If you see a bunny with a basket emerging from the ground to drop a basket of colourful eggs at your doorstep, don’t be alarmed. It is just one of the Easter traditions of the world.

Traditions exist not to preserve the ashes of a culture, but to pass on the flames. Inadequate situations, traditions are guides to how things should be done. But in most cases, we forget that traditions, however simple or elaborate can become prisons that prevent innovations and change.

At every festive season or religious holiday, different traditions surface and Easter is no different. While for every home, culture and country, the traditions vary, there are some Easter traditions that transcend homes and culture and are universal.

Meaning Of Easter

Easter, also called Pascha in Latin or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christian’s Jesus Christ from the dead. It is described in the Bible as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.

The meaning of Easter is basically Jesus Christ’s victory over death. According to the Christian faith, his resurrection symbolises the eternal life that is granted to all who believe in Him. The meaning of Easter also symbolises the complete verification of all that Jesus preached and taught during His three-year ministry. If He had not risen from the dead, if He had merely died and not been resurrected, He would have been considered just another teacher or rabbi. However, His resurrection changed all that and gave final proof that enables Christians to believe that He is the Son of God and that He had conquered death once and for all.

Origin Of Easter

According to many reports, Easter did not always symbolise Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the meaning of Easter was quite different from what Christians celebrate today.

The feast day of Easter was originally a pagan celebration of renewal and rebirth. It was usually celebrated in the early in the year; it honoured the pagan Saxon goddess Eastre. When the early missionaries converted the Saxons to Christianity, the holiday, since it fell around the same time as the traditional memorial of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, was merged with the pagan celebration, and became known as Easter. The meaning of Easter was also changed to reflect its new Christian orientation.

When Should Easter Be Celebrated?

While the date for Christmas is fixed, Easter can fall at any time between March 22 and April 25. Easter and the holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the calendar.

The date changes each year because the death of Jesus occurred around the Jewish Passover, which is traditionally held on first full moon following the vernal equinox. Vernal is synonymous to springtime, and an equinox is commonly regarded as the moment the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the centre of the Sun’s disk, which occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 22-23 September. In other words, it is the point in which the centre of the visible sun is directly over the equator.

As the full moon can vary in each time zone, the Church uses the 14th day of the lunar month instead (the Paschal Full Moon) and host Easter Day on the following Sunday.

Once the date of the moon is known, Easter Day and the Easter holidays can be determined.

Preparation for Easter begins with the season of Great Lent, which is the 40 days of fasting. In addition to fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, Christians cut down on all entertainment and non-essential worldly activities, gradually eliminating them until Great and Holy Friday, the most austere day of the year.

Christians celebrate Easter on a Sunday as it was the day Jesus rose from the dead, following being crucified on a Friday two days before.

Centuries ago in 325, it was determined by a council of Christian bishops that Easter Day would always be on a Sunday to commemorate the happy occasion.

Easter Today

Since then, Easter celebrations have evolved to accommodate a host of activities and traditions, both biblical and non-biblical.

One of such additional traditions is the Easter egg.

The egg is an ancient symbol of new life and rebirth. The practice of decorating eggshells as part of Easter is an ancient one. These cultural relationships influenced early Christian cultures and traditions. 

The Christian custom of Easter eggs, specifically, started among the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs with red colouring “in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at His crucifixion.” The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. As such, the Easter egg is a symbol of the empty tomb.

In addition, many Christians have a custom of abstaining from meat during the days leading to Easter in respect of the death of Jesus, so the eggs in some cases act as a substitute for meat.

As a special dish these days, they are decorated as part of the celebrations.

The oldest tradition is to use dyed chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute decorated chocolate or plastic eggs filled with candy such as jellybeans.

The Easter Bunny is another popular legendary anthropomorphic Easter gift-giving character synonymous with Christmas’ Santa Claus, especially in American culture.

The Easter Bunny is a folkloric figure and symbol of Easter, depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the bunny originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behaviour at the start of the season of Eastertide.

But new customs and traditions emerge every day.

Motunrayo, an indigene of Akure in Ondo State says “I generally prefer Easter to Christmas, because it is quieter. In my house, we don’t eat meat throughout that week. It is only on Easter Sunday that we eat chicken, not meat. Throughout, we will eat only egg. It is not that if we eat an egg, something will happen, but it is to acknowledge the death of Christ. After Christ is risen, we can resume eating meat.”

Charles, explaining Easter says “that period, my parents were always in church, because we were Catholics. Now that I am a family man, I simply use the holiday to sleep. Yes, it is important as a holiday, but the significance to me is that I get a free period from work.”

Other traditions have surfaced in recent times, like every Easter, the government of the State of Osun offers free train transport services to its citizens and others who wish to travel from Lagos to Osogbo.

Speaking with clerics and men of God from the different denominations, Saturday INDEPENDENT gathered their views on what Easter celebrations should look like.

Pastor Femi Luther-Abegunde of Cornerstone Youth Church says:

“Easter is very important to Christianity. As a matter of fact, there is no Christianity without Easter. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:14 that if Christ have not risen, then is our preaching in vain. That simply tells us that the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the cruces and also the thrust of Christianity. There is no Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible also says in Isaiah 53 that but he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and with his stripes, we are healed.

“The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the essence of Christianity. There is no Christianity without Easter, so Easter is very important for us as Christians. How do we celebrate Easter? It is simple. The celebration of Easter is more than the jamboree, the eating and the going about to visit friends. It is actually a time to reflect on the love of God because the Bible says in John 3:16 that for God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life. So Easter gives us a period to reflect on the death, the height and the breadth of the love that God has for humanity. The Bible says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That tells us that God’s love is so vast that it is not about what we have done, but about what He has done. So Easter is a period to reflect on God’s love for us as humans.”

Most Superior Evangelist Prophet Peter Olowote, the Shepherd of the Celestial Church of Christ, Damaturu Parish 1, Yobe State explained his views on the significance of Easter.

“Jesus died for us, and the purpose of his death is to redeem us so that we can enter into the eternal kingdom. Whoever believes in Him can never perish, and that is the reason that Jesus died for us. Our Father Almighty loves us, that is why He gave us His only begotten son. Don’t let us allow him to die a second time. Many are not in Him, but I believe that Jesus died for me, for me to enter into the eternal kingdom; he is my saviour. With Him, everything can be done. He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. When the question was asked who will save the world, He was the one who raised His hand, that He would die for the world and save and redeem us. His sacrifice should not be in vain.

“In Celestial Church, we normally fast seven days to Easter, that means that at the beginning of the fasting, we don’t commence with them, but when it is the last seven days before Easter, we fast. On Good Friday, we are on Mercyland, we call a place in all our churches Mercyland. We are there throughout the day until 8pm. Every other day, by 6pm, everyone is in the church with three different types of food. Having fasted all day, we pray, drink water then eat the food. Until that Friday when it’s Good Friday. On the night of the Good Friday, we normally visit a burial ground to pray. We light candles and pray. On Sunday, we commence prayers by 10am. On Easter Monday, we prepare food and bring it to our Galilee in the premises of our church, then we eat together, drink together to mark the end of Easter.”

Ash Wednesday is another Christian holy day of prayer, fasting and repentance categorised with Easter. It is preceded by Shrove Tuesday and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence and fasting before Easter proper. This makes this particular tradition of Biblical importance.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants to either the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or the dictum “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The ashes are usually prepared from the burning of palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebrations.

Many churches in celebration of modern day Easter have equally taken to re-enacting the days leading to Jesus’ journey to Golgotha and later crucifixion.

The re-enactment usually starts from Palm Sunday when churches decorate with palm fronds and

In this scenario, members of the church are cast in diverse roles, like Jesus, the two thieves, the Roman soldiers, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and many others.

These re-enactments, while not usually real, see the procession trudging through the streets as the ‘soldiers’ beat ‘Jesus’ till they arrive ‘Golgotha’ where he is finally ‘nailed’ to the cross. The re-enactments traditionally take place on Good Friday and have mostly been done in Catholic churches in Nigeria.

Speaking with Rev Father Amaechi, he explained that, “the Holy week is the beginning of the key period of Jesus’ saving grace for mankind. That is actually the culmination of it. Remember that when people were asking Jesus in the period before Palm Sunday that people are looking for Hm to kill Him, Jesus said no one could take His life and that He would fully lay down His life when He wants. He was being hunted, and they wanted to arrest Him, so He rode in triumphantly as if to say that they cannot harm Him. That is the idea of the Palm Sunday.

Based on more information gathered, some believe that Muslim faithful’s equally celebrated Easter. Saturday INDEPENDENT, speaking with a Muslim scholar, was told that “we believe that Jesus was attacked as recorded in the Bible, we believe that He ascended to heaven. We also believe that He would be coming back.”

Whatever the traditions, Easter, like every other religious celebration and holiday, has its traditions, both Biblical and adopted, and Nigerian Christians have for the most part adopted them as a part of Easter.

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