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Happy Easter

INTRODUCTION

The greatest festival of the Christian church commemorates the
resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a movable feast; that is, it is
not always held on the same date. In AD 325 the church council of Nicaea
decided that it should be 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.

LENT

Connected with the observance of Easter are the 40-day penitential season
of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday and concluding at midnight on Holy
Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. In many churches Easter is preceded
by a season of prayer, abstinence, and fasting. This is observed in memory
of the 40 days' fast of Christ in the desert. In Eastern Orthodox churches
Lent is 50 days. In Western Christendom Lent is observed for six weeks and
four days.

Lent may be preceded by a carnival season. The origin of the word carnival
is probably from the Latin carne vale, meaning flesh (meat), farewell.
Elaborate pageants often close this season on Shrove Tuesday, the day
before the beginning of Lent. This day is also called by its French name,
Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, 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.

OTHER IMPORTANT DAYS

Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, celebrates the entry of Jesus into
Jerusalem. Holy Week begins on this day. Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday,
is in memory of the Last Supper of Christ with his disciples. Good Friday
commemorates the crucifixion.

SYMBOLS

Many Easter customs come from the Old World. The white lily, the symbol
of the resurrection, is the special Easter flower. Rabbits and colored
eggs have come from pagan antiquity as symbols of new life. The Easter
rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored easter eggs, originally
painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and used
in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts. Easter Monday egg
rolling, a custom of European origin, has become a tradition on the lawn
of the White House in Washington, D.C. During the Octave of Easter in early
Christian times, the newly baptized wore white garments, white being the
liturgical color of Easter and signifying light, purity, and joy.

ORIGIN OF THE NAME

The name Easter comes from Eostre, an ancient
Anglo-Saxon goddess, originally of the dawn.
In pagan times an annual spring festival was
held in her honor.
Some Easter customs have come from this and other pre-Christian spring of
Festivals. Others come from the Passover feast of the Jews, observed
in memory of their deliverance from Egypt. The word paschal comes from a
Latin word that means belonging to Passover or to Easter. Formerly, Easter
and the Passover were closely associated.

The resurrection of Jesus took place during the Passover. Christians of
the Eastern church initially celebrated both holidays together. But the
Passover can fall on any day of the week, and Christians of the Western
church preferred to celebrate Easter on Sunday the day of the resurrection.

Sources:
Funk & Wagnalls Knowledge Center
Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, 1995

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