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 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.

How Lent is Recognized Today

Many Christians prepare for Easter throughout the period of Lent, although there is no standardized method of observance. Preparation could involve a minor sacrifice such as giving up a luxury food, or sometimes involves fasting. The period of Lent isn’t mentioned in the bible, but has become an important custom for many Christian churches.

How is Lent Recognized Today?

The purpose of Lent is to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ, including his death and resurrection. Lent is 40 days long to recognize the time Jesus spent in the desert, where he faced constant temptation from the Devil. Lent isn’t a celebration, but instead a time of grief that ends with the celebration of Easter.

The start of Lent is traditionally signaled by the placing of ash on the forehead. This custom probably entered Christianity through a similar tradition in Judaism. The ashes are often from burnt palm fronds during the previous Easter celebrations.

In the past, Lent was observed with strict fasting rules. These involved avoiding all meat based foods for the entire 40 days, aside from Sundays, and eating only one meal a day. Rules such as these have been almost completely eradicated by most churches. Roman Catholics, for example, are only asked to fast on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. Some churches, such as the Eastern Catholic Church, still abstain from eating animal products including eggs, fish and milk throughout Lent.

Aside from giving up luxuries for 40 days, modern Christians also mark Lent in other ways. These include reading the bible, greater dedication to regular prayer and spiritual self examination. Traditionally, “almsgiving”, which means “justice towards neighbor,” was an important part of observing lent.

As a general rule, Christians try to perform actions that bring them closer to God during Lent. This might mean following traditional customs such as fasting or bible study. Others choose to observe by taking part in charitable activities or giving away money to those in need.

Many churches hold extra Lent services. It’s also common for people of different Christian denominations to meet during the 40 day period, to discuss and share their belief in God.

Do All Christians Observe Lent?

Many Christians observe lent, but not all churches see it as an important period. Different churches have their own customs for the period leading up to Easter. The Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian churches, for example, consider Lent to be particularly important.

The History of Lent

Lent is a Christian period of recognition and self-examination that lasts 40 days and ends at Easter. It’s observed by Christians in different ways, but often involves some form of fasting or giving up a vice. Lent lasts for 40 days in recognition of Jesus’ time in the desert, where he faced temptation from the Devil.

The word “Lent” comes from the word “lencten,” an Anglo-Saxon word meaning spring. Traditionally, the purpose of Lent is to prepare Christian believers for the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The period following Lent is known as Holy Week.

It’s not known exactly when Lent was first observed, but it’s likely that the time before Easter has always been considered important. There are records of people observing a similar period from almost the beginning of the church. In these early days, however, there was no set method of observance, and the duration of Lent hadn’t been set.

In A.D. 313, Christianity was declared legal by the Emperor Constantine. This slowly allowed church celebrations and traditions, such as Lent, to become more standardized. St. Athanasius was one of the first to ask his congregation to fast for 40 days in the lead up to the Holy Week. Other church leaders subsequently requested similar acts from their followers.

It wasn’t long before the period of 40 days had been set, but there was still a lot of variation in how Lent was observed. People in Rome, for example, fasted every day apart from Sunday, so Lent actually lasted for six weeks. Other Christians didn’t fast at all on the weekend, which meant Lent lasted for 8 weeks. Fasting rules usually forbid eating any animal products, although sometimes fish was considered an exception. In most churches, a person was allowed one meal per day.

Over time, the rules for fasting during Lent became less strict. This evolution began as a necessity, as it wasn’t possible for manual laborers to work all day without eating. Eventually, nearly all churches allowed people to eat fish, and before long meat could be eaten on most days during Lent.

Today, Lent starts with Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. Fasting rules are much simpler than in the past, with many Christians only abstaining from eating meat on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. Some churches also avoid eating meet on Fridays during Lent.

How Mardi Gras is Celebrated Today

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is unlike anything else that you will ever see. Traditionally, this is a Christian celebration. Nevertheless, it is a far cry from a humble event. These fun filled festivities take off every year, and preparation starts on the 6th of January with the Twelfth Night feast rolling consistently through Fat Tuesday. One secret is that Fat Tuesday is the English translation for the French word Mardi Gras.

Traditionally, Mardi Gras has a represents a day of praying and forgiveness.  However, while some may celebrate the religious aspect of the event, many are just attending the celebration to party and have a wild and unforgettable time. One thing is for certain—you should always expect the unexpected in New Orleans during Mardi Gras!

Security is thick during these festivities. You never know what you will see during the Mardi Gras events. Wild costumes combined with hundreds upon hundreds of people fill the streets with their drinks in hand. Police on horseback make their way through the crowd to try to maintain control of the situation. There are women on balconies flashing their breasts. Laughter and dancing will surround you with the sounds of Zydeco and the smells of creole cuisine in the air. It is defiantly an event you will never forget.

 

While there is plenty going on in the streets, the clubs in the area are putting on their own celebrations. New Orleans has some of the most unique and fun parties and clubs in the United States. This is a town that needs no celebration to attract tourists from all across the globe. There is nothing about the city or the celebrations that you will not love. New Orleans never sleeps. The culture is rich. This is a magical place full of nostalgia. Its history runs deep. There are all different types of shops along the streets as well, and some you may even find shocking with voodoo paraphernalia and other cultural tied novelties lining their shelves.

Mardi Gras is filled with non-stop events like balls, masquerades, parades, parties and celebrations around the clock. If you are planning the trip, it is highly advisable to book well in advance. If you want a balcony on Bourbon Street then you may even want to consider booking the year before, and do not forget your camcorder. This is something you are going to want to capture and preserve. While Mardi Gras parades are held in many cities around the nation, you have not actually been to Mardi Gras unless you have been to the New Orleans celebrations.

The History Behind Mardi Gras

What happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is a widely celebrated occasion that you have to attend to appreciate. Knowing the origins of the celebration just makes it all the better. Mardi Gras struggles through some tough times. It was even stopped on occasion. Like the city it thrives in Mardi Gras is resilient. It seemingly keeps coming back stronger that it was before.

Mardi Gras is a highly anticipated event. It is an amazing party that is very rich in history and culture. As generations pass it becomes viewed as a great event to attend with little to no knowledge of the history behind the celebration. With a story like the one behind Mardi Gras it is important to put the culture and knowledge back in to the celebrations that are taking place today.

Mardi Gras actually originated long before any European settlers ever laid eyes on the New Word. A celebration called Lupercaliawas recognized by Romans before they embraced Christianity. After the embracement of the religion changes were implemented to their carnival like celebration to allow Christians their own interpretation of the events. This birthed Mardi Gras which was introduced into American culture in 1699. It was not always the Mardi Gras we all know and love or long to attend.

Point du Mardi Gras was not located where the celebrations are today in New Orleans. It was very close though. Mardi Gras made its way first to Iberville on the rivers west bank. There is about a 60 mile difference from the location of today’s parades hosted in New Orleans.

Mardi Gras went through quite a few changes in the eighteenth century when the French rule turned to the Spanish. It was even outlawed! The masked balls and elaborate festivals were banned all together until the United States became the rulers of New Orleans in 1827. The creole people partitioned the governor to legalize their beloved events. He was moved by their pleas to make street masking legal again. Despite the issues that restricted the masking in the first place the governor allowed the events to resume legally.

The first parade held in the city streets took place in 1837. People were asking to have the celebrations ended due to violence and mayhem caused by some masked criminals. New Orleans citizens stepped up and saved the celebrations.

Six citizens who were experienced in overseeing large parades and events organized a safer event. It also turned out to be a more festive celebration. This is how the Mardi Gras as we now know it began.

The first queen of the Mardi Gras was recorded in 1871. This was also the introduction of the cake tradition.  She was paraded in the celebration with a cake that hid a treasured golden bean somewhere inside.

The first king of Mardi Gras came later with a visit from Russia’s Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff in 1872. With his introduction to the events the traditional gold, purple and green colors themed the event for the first time. Another tradition was born.

Mardi Gras may have seen its ups and downs through the dark years that consumed its existence and hurricane Katrina still it has always bounced back. It returned in 1919 only to struggle all the way through the 1930’s. It took off in the 40’s, and it had another setback with the hurricane. Its resilience prevailed making Mardi Gras one of the most loved and anticipated celebrations in the United States.