The Origins of Easter

In the Western world, Easter, like Christmas, is a blend of paganism and Christianity. The arrival of spring was celebrated by various cultures and civilizations all over the world long before the Christian church associated a theological significance with the rites of spring.   The word Easter is derived from Eostre, an ancient Anglo-Saxon Goddess who symbolized the rebirth of life in the spring.  The festival of Eostre was celebrated at the vernal (spring) equinox, when day and night are equal.

Today, Easter is the principal festival of the Christian church year and celebrates the rebirth, or resurrection, of Jesus Christ on the third day after his Crucifixion.  It is observed by the churches of the West on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox (March 21).  Thus Easter is a "movable" feast" which can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.

Easter is at the end of the Lenten season, which covers a forty-six-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter.  Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is celebrated in the United States, especially in Louisiana, on the day before Ash Wednesday.  It the last chance to have a good time before the sacrifices of Lent begin,  since Lent is a period of penitence in preparation for the celebration of Easter.  Holy Week, the last week of Lent, begins with the observance of Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the crowds laid palms at his feet.  Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, which was held the evening before the Crucifixion. Friday in Holy Week ("Good Friday") is the anniversary of the day when Christ died on the cross.  Holy week and the Lenten season end with Easter Sunday.
 
 

The Easter Story
as told in the New Testament of the Christian Bible
in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
 

"The Messiah"
This oratorio by George Frideric Handel relates the birth and life of Christ
and is often performed at Easter.  An especially well-known and
loved part is the "Hallelujah! Chorus."


George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)