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Easter Traditions

With the Easter Vigil behind us, and we move into a new time of celebration in the Resurrection of Jesus. Here are some of the explanations of certain Easter traditions that I am sure came up at the table, like, where did the Easter bunny come from?



During the Middle Ages in Europe, people in their new Easter clothes would take a long walk after Easter Mass. This was a kind of procession preceded by a crucifix of the Easter Candle. Even though its original meaning was lost, the tradition evolved into the Easter Parade. It is still popular in many cities in the United States today, especially on Fifth Avenue in New York




The sacrificed lamb was the key symbol of the Passover Seder. It continued as a symbol of Jesus, the Lamb of God, slain and raised from the dead to gain freedom for all from the slavery of sin and spiritual ignorance. The Easter Lamb became an important symbol in Christian art. It also became popular to include the symbol among Easter decorations and to bake Easter                                                                                   breads and cakes in the shape of a lamb.



From ancient times in Europe, cooked ham was as popular as lamb for festive occasions. It is natural that it grace the table on this, the greatest of all feasts.




The egg has become a popular Easter symbol. Creation myths of many ancient peoples center in a cosmogenic egg from which the universe was born. The egg, therefore, is a natural symbol, not only of creation, but also of re-creation and resurrection. in ancient Egypt and Persia friends exchanged decorated eggs at the spring equinox, the beginning of their new year. These eggs were a symbol of fertility for them because the coming forth of a live creature from an egg was so surprising to people of ancient times. Christians of the Near East adopted this tradition, and the Easter egg became a religious symbol. It represented the tomb from which Jesus came forth to new life. Because eggs were at on time forbidden by the churches Lenten discipline of fasting and abstinence, they were a precious Easter food. Easter eggs are usually given to children, either in Easter baskets or hidden for the children to find. They are first boiled and then dyed with bright colours. Among some ethnic groups these eggs, usually with the contents removed, are painted with elaborate designs. Easter treeAmong the Slavic people these are called pysanki (“to design”).           The custom of decorating trees outdoors with decorated, hollow Easter eggs originated in Germany. Easter egg hunts, and even the  egg-rolling on the White house lawn, are contemporary versions of egg games played on Easter for centuries in European countries.




Little children are usually told that the Easter eggs are brought by the Easter Bunny. Rabbits are part of       pre-Christian fertility symbolism because of the reputation to produce rapidly. Their association with Easter eggs goes back several hundred years to vague legends in Germany. There the custom of making candy rabbits also originated. The Easter Bunny has never had a religious meaning.



The  white trumpet lily, which blooms naturally in springtime, was introduced from Bermuda by Mrs. Thomas P. Sargent. The popular name “Easter Lillies” comes from the fact that they bloom around Eastertime. They have become associated with Easter as much as poinsettias are with Christmas. In early Christian art the lily is a symbol of purity because of its delicacy of form and its whiteness. For the same reason it serves well as a symbol of resurrection.




In England, it was a popular custom to bake sweet buns, ice them with a cross, and eat them on Good Friday. These hot cross buns eventually became a popular food eaten all during Lent. In early Christianity these buns were flat, unleavened imitations of the Passover bread. There is a possibility that this tradition originated in pre-Christian times. Egyptians used small loaves, stamped with horns, in the worship of the Mother Goddess, Isis. Greeks used cakes stamped with a cross in their devotions to goddess Diana.


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Something new seems to be brewing. The past few month have not been very exciting. In fact, there have been depressing moments. A quarter of the year has passed since the cheerfulness of Christmas. But now there seems to be promise of something new and good.

The past six weeks int he parish have been intense. The call to conversion has echoed repeatedly. It has been a season of penance: mot much excitement there! Decorations have been subdued. The ritual journey during the past week, Holy Week, has been full of symbolism. The waving of palms gave way to a passion story. A supper banquet gave way to a cross. And last night (Easter Vigil) gave way to a new fire, new oils, new water – and new life


The theme of Easter morning echoes that of the Eater Vigil. It remembers and celebrates the very foundation of Christianity: Jesus is raised from the dead and is Lord. Those who believe and are baptized share in this Resurrection to new life. This theme will continue for the next fifty days of the Easter season.                               It was natural that the very first followers of Jesus would hold this moment sacred. it was the anniversary of that wonderful time when they experienced him risen and still among them. His death had occurred on the most important of all Jewish feasts: the Passover. His resurrection fulfilled all that the Passover had meant to them as Jews.                                                                                  It was an exodus, or passage, from the old times and the oppression of slavery to spiritual freedom. Jesus was the Paschal Lamb, slain to achieve this freedom..                                 It is obvious that something wonderful has happened as people walk into church. They are greeted by a church decorated with signs of new life: bright colours and Easter lilies. Alleluias ring out. it is Easter morning!                                                                                     For many, if not most, parishioners, this is the celebration of Easter. In every parish, however, the main celebration occurred the night before with the Easter Vigil. Sunday morning Easter Mass evolved in history when the Easter Vigil was anticipated during the early morning hours of Holy Saturday.

Christ’s resurrection was the sign of new beginnings. This theme was part of the evolution of the Passover long before the Exodus from Egypt. The ancestors of the Jews had celebrated a springtime festival of the first fruits of their flocks with a sacrifice of lambs. Eventually these feasts were combined as an annual memorial of the mystery of


their escape from Egypt, and the passing over them by the angel of death. For 3000 years, and still today, Jews celebrate this drama of miraculous salvation by repeating the ancient story with song, readings, and symbolic foods: the Seder meal.         It was the Seder meal of this Passover that Jesus celebrated with his friends the night before his crucifixion, with  the request that it be celebrated in a new way in his memory. This they did on the weekly anniversary of his resurrection, the first day of the week, Sunday. It was only natural that the annual anniversary be highlighted with special solemnity.


Early in Christianity a controversy arose over setting the date of the annual Pascha. Some, 381-1233891708GdW7called the Quartodecimans (Latin, “fourteenth”), claimed that it should be celebrated annually on the precise date of Jesus’ historical Passover: the 14th of Nisan ) first day of the full moon that followed the spring equinox), usually a weekday. Others insisted that it always be a Sunday, because Christ was raised from the dead on the first day of the week. This controversy was a high priority on the agenda at the Council of Nicaea called by Emperor Constantine in 325. The decision was that it be observed on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. In the West, only the Celtic church in Britain and Ireland refuse to accept the date until 664 because of their own Celtic calendar. Easter can occur on any Sunday from March 23 to April 25.


In almost every language except English, the name for this annual memorial of the resurrection is some from of the word “Passover” (for example, Pasch, from the Hebrew Pesach, “Passover”). When Christianity arrived in the north countries, its springtime celebration of the resurrection received a new name from the Teutonic people, a name used today by English-speaking people: Easter. At one time it was thought that this name came from an Anglo-Saxon spring goddess, Eostre. However there is doubt that such a goddess ever existed. A better explanation lies in people’s misunderstanding of a Latin phrase for Easter Week, week “in white vestments” or garments of the newly baptized (in albis), thinking it was the plural of alba  in the Latin idiom for “dawn,” the birth of the new spring sun in the east. This was translated in Old High German as eostarun. Regardless if the exact origin of the term, the symbolism remains:                               Christ is the sun that rises at dawn – in the east.


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The Easter Vigil

In the midst of the early dark of night a fire begins to flicker outside the church. An Easter Candle, boldly marked with the symbols of the current year and of Christ’s divinity and glorious suffering, is lit from the new fire. It is carried prominently into the midst of the people. There it is heralded with joyful song: “Light of Christ.. Come, let us adore him.” From this one light, the candles of hundreds of assembled believers are lit until the church is ablaze with new light. A cantor sings an ancient and beautiful song (Exultet, “Rejoice”) before the Easter Candle. Powerful Scripture readings about water and new creation are proclaimed. Easter water is blessed with the singing of of the Litany of Saints and with sacred oils consecrated just days before at the Chrism Mass. Catechumens step forward, speak their baptismal vows with the supportive voices of the congregation around them, and are baptized. Bells ring out. Flowers, especially Easter Lilies, and joyful banners decorate the sanctuary. Alleluias are sung for the first time in six weeks. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!


No other moment of the church year is as rich in powerful and early

The daytime hours of Holy Saturday, continuing the atmosphere of Good Friday, have been observed as a time of quiet and fasting from the early centuries. The day had no liturgy or religious traditions of its own. There was an atmosphere of anticipation for the coming of night for the celebration of the resurrection.symbolism as the Easter Vigil. It is the night of all nights. It is the heart of Christianity. It is Easter!


The impressive blessing and lighting of the Easter fire, which still begins the vigil today, was not part of the ritual in ancient times. Among the Germanic people in pre-Christian times, bonfires in honor of pagan deities were popular to announce the beginning of spring and to assure good crops. After Christianity spread among these people, the church forbade these spring bonfires as a pagan practice. During the 6th and 7th centuries, however, Irish missionaries brought to the continent a tradition of blessing a bonfire outside of the church on Holy Saturday night. This tradition had been started by St Patrick to counter the influence of spring bonfires among the Celtics Druids. the tradition became popular in the Carolingian empire, spread to Rome, and eventually was incorporated into the liturgy of the Easter Vigil.


The lighting of the new Easter fire also had a practical purpose. The lamps in church used to be extinguished Holy Thursday night. Consequently, a new fire had to be lit for the celebrant and readers to see by.