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History of Easter

Everyone looks forward to his or her bank holidays, but long spring breaks are especially popular. Many of the stories and traditions that led to this bank holiday are often forgotten in the excitement as Easter has come to mean a mix of Jesus’ death and resurrection, chocolate eggs and cute bunnies (originally hares), in a combination/concoction of Christianity and paganistic rituals.

Christians believe that Jesus, the Son of God was born a Jew two thousand years ago to heal and teach people God’s truth. He was crucified on Good Friday, which is now a time of prayer and repentance in the church, and after three days rose again. Believers remember his death and resurrection in the Holy Communion service of bread (representing his body) and wine (representing his blood).

The Jewish Feast of the Passover is the fourteenth day of the full moon, recalling the Old Testament night when the Angel of Death was sent to kill all firstborns in the land of Egypt (Jewish slaves and Egyptian people). Judgment ‘passed over’ all houses with sacrificial blood marked on doorframes as that showed they were God-fearing believers.

The Last Supper of Jesus was on the night of the Passover, Thursday, and his death occurred the next day. ‘Pascha’ or Passover became Easter by various mistranslations over many years.

Easter itself may have come from an old Anglo-Saxon term, ‘Eostre’ or ‘Ishtar’ or ‘Ostara’, a goddess of fertility celebrated around the spring (vernal) equinox. Thus over the years, the old and the new have merged to give us the event we have today.

There is no fixed date for Easter. It always falls on the Sunday following the fourteenth day of the calendar moon on or after the 21st March, so varies every year between 22 March and 25 April.

The secular meaning imposed on the holiday evolved from spring being a reawakening of life after the long winter. Young rabbits symbolise rebirth and new hope. Eggs have represented birth in almost every culture since time began.

The giving of batik and highly jeweled eggs containing little gifts came from a central European folk tradition, with the ornate Faberge creations for the Russian Imperial family still valued today.

Egg dances, games and the egg hunt are common in some cultures, while chocolate has become increasingly the ingredient of choice. This began in 19th century France and Germany, where small, hard, bitter chocolate eggs were given. The first mass-produced English egg arrived in 1873.

Like all traditions, each year people add new bits (decorating houses with lilies), forget other parts (the significance of hot cross buns) of their rituals and routines in what is now called Holy Week. Although religious festivities have declined rather in the last century, Easter breaks have become the holiday of choice for family, shopping, holidaying and partying events.