Easter Celebrations

Easter is the most important of the Christian religious holidays – celebrating the joyous resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb after his crucifixion. There are many ways that Christian cultures celebrate Easter, let’s take a look at some.

The most important celebratory event on Eastern Sunday is a sunrise service, to rejoice and sing praise to the risen Lord. The service is a very happy one with lots of singing and bright, cheerful colors throughout the church. The service has a decidedly less formal pattern, but a pattern nonetheless. There is a blessing, a lighting of the paschal candle, a service that includes lessons on the teachings and sacrifice of Christ, another blessing, baptisms and Easter mass. Orthodox churches perform a procession outside to conduct a symbolic church for Christ’s body and thus joyfully announce that “Chris is risen!” and then the procession returns to the church for the service.

Easter eggs are thought to represent the empty tomb, but they are known to represent new life and rebirth, thus a natural addition to a springtime religious festival. Dating all the way back to medieval times eggs were given to servants at Easter and to children in Germany along with other gifts.

Chocolate Easter bunnies have been around since the early 19th century and remain exceedingly popular in Easter baskets even today. Over 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies are made each year to be included in children’s Easter baskets.

Dancing is also a popular way to celebrate on Easter Sunday, as is witnessed in Ireland where Christians dance on the streets. While they are dancing to win a prize of a cake, the rest of the Irish observations of Easter Sunday are sacred and filled with fasting and prayer.

Many countries celebrate in very differing ways. For example, in Malta Easter Sunday is a joyous event with a parade and a band. The procession is then followed by a huge lunchtime family gathering where everyone enjoys a feast of spring lamb, vegetables and baked potatoes. Afterwards the children are given a chocolate or confectionary treat.

In Mexico, Christian communities will reenact the events of the holy week, to include the Resurrection. These reenactments are known for theatrical flair, with the actors preparing for a full year to play their parts.

What religious holiday isn’t famous for its myths and legends? One such legend is of a young rabbit that waited anxiously for three days for his friend, Jesus, to come back to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is told that when Jesus returned to the garden on Easter morning he was greeted by his friend, the rabbit. While only a legend, it is a sweet possible explanation of the inclusion of rabbits in the celebration of Easter.

History of Easter

Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter’s arrival is greeted with a jubilant rejoicing in that the son of God has risen up from the dead – resurrected from his crucifixion; as such it is known the world over as the single most important religious holiday of the Christian religion!

Easter is one of the very few ‘movable’ holidays because it does not fall on the same day every year. Since A.D. 325, Western Christian churches celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox on March 21; thus Easter falls anywhere in between March 22 and April 25. Eastern, or Orthodox, Christians use the Julian calendar to calculate when Easter should occur and therefore typically celebrate it one or two weeks after the Western Christian churches.

There are multiple versions explaining where the name of the holiday originated from. Some say that it refers to the Latin term for the white clothing donned by baptized people and others state that it was a derivative of Eostre – the Teutonic goddess of spring and also of fertility.

In the Christian church, the Easter holiday is more than a single-day observance, spanning the course of several months. There are 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday that are to be used by Christians as a time of penance and of reflection. These 40 days begin on Ash Wednesday, which immediately follows Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is a raucous party of food, drink and fun before the fasting of Lent begins for 40 days. The only break during Lent is for Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th. The 40 days are said to represent the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, alone, being tempted by the devil. The last week of this 40-day period is known as the Holy Week and begins with Passover, and also includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

The period after Easter is called Eastertide and is a 50-day period that includes celebrations to rejoice in the glory of Jesus’ ascension to heaven. This makes the Easter religious holiday one of the longest and most revered of all religious festivals.

In recent times the holiday has become a very secular event with many commercial and retail opportunities to represent spring, mostly. But many of these objects represent Chris either as a symbol of rebirth, religious sacrifice, or the empty tomb of Christ. Even the Easter Bunny is derived as a symbol of fertility – a direct representation of spring and an indirect relation to the pagan goddess Eostre. The Easter egg itself represents new life and rebirth. Therefore, even the seemingly commercialization of Easter products truly represent the joyous occasion of Christ’s resurrection.

Celebrations to Recognize Holi

The festival of Holi is known as the festival of color. It contains many exuberant celebrations and rituals that are indicative of the joyous jubilation being honored because Prahlada was saved from the fire that his sister, Holika, carried him into – upon their father’s order. It is believed that Lord Vishnu protected Prahlada and thus ceremonious dance, food, and music are enjoyed during this celebration to praise the Lord Vishnu and Prahlada’s salvation from the fire. Let’s look at some other ways that Hindus celebrate Holi.

The most prevalent celebratory staple in a Holi festival is both the bonfire and the throwing of colored powder and/or perfumes at one another. The second most prevalent description of a traditional Holi festival would be best described as a wild celebration whereby the normally strict gaps between gender, status, and class are lowered so that all Hindus can join in the celebration equally. Holi celebrations traditionally last about 2 days, however in Mathura the Holi festival lasts a full 16 days.

The bonfire is lit around midnight to coincide with the rising moon. Men spend many days prior to the festival collecting enough wood to be used in the bonfire. The custom of smearing oneself, and each other, with colored powder and perfumes (or scented water) is likely why the festival has been dubbed the “Festival of Colors.”

The celebration is known for an excess of dance, music, and food to regale the arrival of spring in full glory. The dancing and singing are said to represent and symbolize the victory of good (Prahlada) over evil (Holi and their father Hiranyakashipu). One cannot underscore the exuberance and enthusiasm with which the rejoicers dance around the bonfire in celebration of Holi.

In Gorakhpur, the morning of Holi is likened to a New Year’s celebration as it is coincides with the last day of the Hindu calendar month Phalgun, which is considered the end of the Hindu year. The day is spent visiting every house, independent of class, singing Holi songs and showing gratitude for one another by smearing colored powders. It is largely considered the most colorful, joyful, and happiest day of the year – a day where brotherhood is promoted amongst all people.

In Kumaon the Holi festival is largely a festival of song. And as such there are even specific times for each song to be sung. Peelu, Bhimpalasi, and Sarang ragas are sung at noon, while Kalyan, Shyamkalyan, and Yaman songs are to be sung in the evening.

In Bihar, the ceremony is a loud and joyous event where grains, wood, leaves, and dung are all used in the bonfire. The elder of the community lights the bonfire and smears participants with color to greet them as they join in the festival activities. On the next day the festival continues in a spirit of abandon and frolic. Liquor is imbibed in copious amounts during the Holi festival in Bihar.

The Hindus recognize many different ways to celebrate the coming of spring with rejoicing in the traditions of the Holi story of the old Hindu religion. It is a time for rejoicing and celebrating with a fervent passion for life and salvation.

History of Holi

The ancient Indian festival of color known as Holika, or Holi, is primarily celebrated in India and Nepal, as well as in other regions around the globe. As an increase of tourism in recent years occurs during the festival of color, it has become exceedingly popular and important to regions that are known to have a direct connection to Barsana, Vrindavan, Nandagaon, Mathura and Lord Krishna.

There is a long-held belief of the Hindu religion that Hiranyakashipu was a demon of the worst kind – the greatest king of all demons and had been granted a boon by Brahma which made it near impossible to kill him. He grew more demonic and demanded that all people worship him and cease worshipping the Gods. His own son was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and this angered Hiranyakashipu such that he was determined to kill him. But alas his son was untouchable. After several failed attempts to kill his son, he finally ordered Prahlada to sit in his sister’s lap, Holika. His sister held a boon that kept her from being harmed by fire. Their father shackled them in the chair and started a huge fire. Prahlada prayed to Lord Vishnu to protect him. To everyone’s amazement Holika burnt to death while Prahlada was spared. Thus the burning of Holika and Prahlada’s salvation is celebrated as Holi. In some areas the festival is celebrated for many days – up to 16 days in Mathura – as an honor and remembrance of Krishna’s divine love of Radha.

The festival of Holi holds many purposes to the Hindus. It is a festival to scoot out winter and welcome spring’s lush harvests and fertile land. As a festival it serves to welcome spring fervently as the new season full of joy and bright colors. The festival itself is exhilarating with wild celebrations including bonfires and the throwing of colored powder at one another. The bonfires represent remembrance of Prahlada’s escape from the fire that his sister, Holika carried him into.

The color festivities last for about five days total and end on Panchami, which is known as the fifth day of the full moon. The origin of the current day Holi festival has been traced back to ancient Bengal. Interestingly the Holi festival lowers the strict gaps that normally exist between ‘classes’ in Hindu religion. Rich, poor, women, and men all rejoice and celebrate together – as such no polite behavior is mandated either and the entire celebration is a cause for much joy and excitement amongst all Hindus.

Observance of Passover

The observance of the Passover religious holiday within the Jewish religion is one of the very strict rituals. There are several rules that must be adhered to.

For starters, in remembrance of the Israelites hasty departure from Egypt, all leavening is forbidden during Passover. And it’s just not the consumption of leavened bread that is forbidden, but also the keeping and owning of any leavened products during the Passover feast is not permitted. Therefore, in preparation of the Passover festival all leavened products are either eaten or given away to non-Jews. It’s important to note that fermentation and yeast are not only allowed, but are in fact required during the Passover ceremonious celebrations. On the night before Passover begins a blessing is read and then a traditional search is done through the house for any remaining chametz (leavened bread). During the days leading up to this eve, 10 morsels of bread that can be no larger than an olive are hidden throughout the house to be found and subsequently burned the next day, as part of the formal tradition.

Another ritualistic observance is that any dish, glass, or silverware that has ever touched chametz is packed up during the cleaning process and only special dishes, etc., are used during the Passover feast. It is also permissible to boil the utensils to remove any chametz from them.

Matzo is highly regarded and serves a key function in the Passover observance. It is preferred to eat matzo on the first night of Passover and then to only eat unleavened bread throughout the week of Passover.

The Passover feast lasts for seven or eight days, depending upon one’s Jewish tradition. The first night of Passover is the most reverent, containing a special dinner noted as a Seder. The book entitled Haggadah is used in the feast and is strictly and solemnly adhered to. The book tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt and has 15 phases that unfold throughout the night’s retelling. There are four cups of wine consumed throughout various parts. The 15 parts are: a blessing and the drinking of the first cup of wine; washing of the hands; dipping the karpas in salt water; breaking of the middle matzo; retelling of the Passover story, recital of the four questions and drinking of the second cup of wine; second washing of the hands, this time with a blessing; a traditional blessing before eating bread; blessing before eating matzo; eating of the maror; eating of a sandwich made of matzo and maror; serving of the holiday meal; eating of the afikoman; blessing after the meal and drinking of the third cup of wine; reciting of the Hallel and drinking of the fourth cup of wine; conclusion with songs and prayer. The 15 parts represent the 15 steps in the Temple in Jerusalem where the Levites stood during Temple services, also memorialized in the 15 Psalms.

As you can see, Passover is held as the most religious and ceremonious celebration of one of the three holiest of the Jewish holidays.

History of Passover (Pesach)

Passover, known as Pesach in the Hebrew language, is one of the most sacred and widely observed Jewish religious holidays. The religious holiday recognizes the Israelites departure after 400 years of slavery in ancient Egypt.

God instructed Moses to demand that the Pharaoh of Egypt releases the Hebrews. Moses requested the Pharaoh to allow them to return to Israel for a three-day religious celebration and feast. The Pharaoh refused and thus God delivered 10 plagues upon the Egyptians, each one worse than the previous. The final plague: the slaying of the firstborn son of every Egyptian household. Moses instructed the Jews to mark their doorways with lamb’s blood so that God would “pass over” their home during the plague. This is where the holiday is believed to have received its name: Passover.

The Pharaoh released the Israelites to return to their homes and offered them anything to make their journey a success. But the Hebrews feared the Pharaoh would change his mind thus they left in great haste, not taking the time for the bread to ‘leaven.’ This is the reason for unleavened bread to hold such an instrumental role in the rituals and ceremonious meals during the observance of the Passover festival today.

As it turns out, the Pharaoh did change his mind and gathered his army to chase after the Hebrews. When the Hebrews reached the Red Sea after 40 days and nights, they prayed to God to save them and pleaded with Moses to help. That night Moses used his staff and parted the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to return home. As the Egyptians approached the sea, its waters fell in again and they drowned.

Observance of Passover is highly regarded and very ritualistic amongst Jews. It is a festival that lasts 7 or 8 days, depending upon ones specific to Jewish faith. It is one of the three most holiest of religious holidays within the Jewish religion and as such there is even a book that outlines with great detail how each meal shall be prepared, how the table shall be set, and which dishware and lines shall be used. It even dictates what you should wear during the meals of Passover, which shoes to wear and, reverently, how quickly the meal should be eaten. Many Jews make the great pilgrimage back to the Temple at Jerusalem as a part of their celebration, and they are told to reflect on their faith and their life in honor of God’s glorious release of their people from slavery.

Celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17th, in recognition and remembrance of St. Patrick’s death. The saint is known for his reverent devotion and tireless servitude in bringing Christianity to Ireland. Although he was born in Great Britain and kidnapped at the age of 16 to be sold into slavery – in Ireland – he returned to the country as a young adult with a fervent desire to spread the good news of the gospel of Christianity. Although Saint Patrick died in the fifth century, his death was not recognized as a religious holiday until the ninth or tenth century. And it wasn’t made an official public holiday by the government until 1903. However, religious celebrations began a few hundred years after his passing to joyously pay homage and tribute to the man who spent his life sharing Christianity with the wonderful people of Ireland.

One rather interesting bit of trivia is that the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade actually occurred in the United States by Irish soldiers in 1762 in New York City, not in Ireland! The first parade of record in Ireland to celebrate the day wasn’t until 1931 in Dublin! And in another uniquely curious bit of trivia, in 1848 several disparate Irish societies in New York decided to form one Saint Patrick’s Day Parade together in the city, thus becoming the world’s oldest civilian parade. It’s also the largest parade in the United States with over 3 million viewers and over 150,000 participants. Several United States rivers go green in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day – most notably the Chicago River and the Savannah River.

Saint Patrick’s Day holiday falls right in the middle of Lent; thus Irish families traditionally would celebrate by going to the church in the morning and then later joyously celebrate the saint and all he did to spread Christianity afterwards. Conveniently, and in honor of Saint Patrick, Lenten prohibitions against eating meat are waived so the people can feast, dance, and drink. The main celebratory meal was Irish bacon and cabbage.

What’s Saint Patrick’s Day without a little Guinness Beer? One might be surprised to know that in Ireland Saint Patrick’s Day was traditionally a religious holiday and up until the 1970’s pubs and bars were closed on this day in solemn reverence of the saint’s good deeds for the church. However, after the law was repealed in the 1970s and pubs were allowed to be open, it didn’t take long for Ireland to realize the tourism opportunity that existed in the secular celebrations. Erin Go Bragh!

History of Saint Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated every year on March 17 to represent the anniversary of the saint’s death. The saint’s death occurred in the fifth century (AD 461) and after more than 1,500 years the day is still a day of celebration in his honor. To be fair, after the saint’s death he was largely forgotten until the ninth or tenth century when the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick began to be observed annually on March 17. Ireland made Saint Patrick’s Day an official public holiday in 1903 and although the celebrations across the world are primarily secular ones, it remains a religious holiday to be observed in Ireland.

Saint Patrick was born in Great Britain, but was kidnapped at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland to be a slave. He escaped, but then he later returned to Ireland to bring Christianity to its countrymen. He is believed to have used the shamrock as a simple way to share the gospel of the trinity. In his teachings he supposedly likened the three leaves of a shamrock as representation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day as a holy day of obligation and solemnity. The religious holiday is also celebrated by the Church of Ireland, which is the Irish branch of the Anglican Communion. Since this celebratory day falls right in the middle of lent, it is enjoyed by all Catholics as a church sanctified break from their Lenten fasts. There are a multitude of Catholic services and programs on this day to honor the saint who spent his life bringing Christianity to the country he was stolen away to in slavery in his youth. Saint Patrick devoted his life to servitude and to spread the joy and love of the Christian faith.

There are many myths that surround the legacy of Saint Patrick. One is a fabricated claim that he eradicated snakes from the island. But truth be told there never have been any snakes found in Ireland, likely due to the fact that it is surrounded by icy, cold ocean waters that are much too cold to allow snakes to navigate through to migrate there from, well, from anywhere. However, since snakes represent evil in much of ancient literature it is considered symbolic that by bringing Christianity to the land he drove out the pagan ways, which were believed to be evil. Thus the myth that he drove snakes from Ireland was born.

Recognition of Palm Sunday

Many of today’s ceremonial traditions that celebrate and honor Palm Sunday (also referred to as Passion Sunday) date back to the tenth century. Traditionally the palms used in the Palm Sunday service will be blessed. In regions where palm trees are not readily available, there are several other suitable options such as yew, willow, sallow, etc. After the service, many revered churchgoers will take the palms home and place them all around their houses, or even in their fields and in their barns, to add blessings to their homes and all who enter.

Children play a crucial role in any Palm Sunday service, and as such many children will participate first by making crosses from the palm leaves. Then children are a part of the processional to and from the altar – celebrating the day that Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. After the procession, Mass is celebrated with reverence and singing of the Passion and the Benediction. The Passion is included to serve as a reminder and a memorial of the sufferings of Christ.

As a final tradition, the palm leaves are ceremoniously burned and are actually used for the ashes at Ash Wednesday services.

There are many traditional foods that are recognized to commiserate a Palm Sunday ceremony. For example, fig pudding is sometimes enjoyed because it is believed that Jesus ate figs during his donkey ride into Jerusalem. Another traditional offering is split pea soup, which is traditionally served in Scotland or Northern England. Peas were sometimes placed in the shoe as penance during Lent, therefore eating split pea soup in remembrance of penance is sometimes observed.

One little-known piece of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem and the usage of Palm leaves by the people to wave in glory and joyous song is that in that time the Palm was perceived as a sign of Israel and thus like a Jewish national flag. The Romans had seized control of Jerusalem and this impromptu gathering and subsequent procession throughout the city was displeasing to them. They asked Jesus to tell the people to cease rejoicing, but his reply further angered them. He was known to have said that if they stopped rejoicing and singing, the stones of the road would start singing in their place. This is an Old Testament prophecy whereby Jerusalem would know when the Messiah was coming to save its people.

Rejoicing in remembrance of this event is a blessed day in the Christian religion and is, as such, celebrated with song, blessings, and joyous reverence.

History of Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is observed on the last Sunday before Easter. It is a day celebrated by Christians as it represents the triumphant return of Jesus into Jerusalem before his subsequent betrayal by Judas Iscariot and then his crucifixion. It is considered a traditional practice to lay down garments and the branches of trees onto the street as royalty passed by. Palm fronds were believed to have been used to lain down on the streets during Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey, to represent his status as the Prince of Peace, according to the version told in the Gospel of John. It was well-known that when a king rode into a city on horse-back, his intentions were of war. But should he ride in on the back of a donkey then he was interested in keeping peace.

Jesus’ return is told in all four of the Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And while the Gospel of John specifically references the usage of Palm branches, it is the version in the Gospel according to Matthew that is read most often during Palm Sunday services and ceremonies. It is perceived that by choosing to enter Jerusalem so ceremoniously riding on a donkey, Jesus was declaring to all that he was the King of Israel.


Palm branches represent victory, goodness, and triumph in ancient times. Additionally, it is referenced at the end of the bible that “people from every nation shall raise palm branches to honor Jesus.” Many churches use palm leaves, sometimes tied to represent a cross, and distribute them to worshipers during a traditional Palm Sunday ceremony.

The beginning of Holy Week is commiserated by Palm Sunday, even though some say that Holy Week begins a day prior on Lazarus Saturday – the day that Lazarus was resurrected from the dead. Palm Sunday is the official end of lent and as such a new period of fasting begins on Palm Sunday.

It is believed that the actual celebration of Palm Sunday dates back to either the third or fourth century. The celebration itself has changed over the centuries, with one version dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries where straw effigies were burned, likely to represent anger at the betrayer – Judas. Although there are those who believe that the burning of straw figures was actually supposed to represent a send-off of winter in preparation for spring.

Palm Sunday irreverently marks the start of the holiest of all weeks in the Christian religion; leading up to the resurrection of Jesus a week later on Easter Sunday.