By REV. JASON P. PETERSON,
St. Peter’s Lutheran Church
This time of year, we often see documentaries or articles that include criticisms that various traditions of the holiday have scandalous roots, or that Easter itself is stolen from some older, pagan form of spirituality. But, much like the similar accusations surrounding the celebrations of our Lord’s birth proved false, these are likewise unsubstantiated.
Easter is actually the oldest celebration of the Christian Church Year, although the name “Easter” is unique to those of us in parts of the English-speaking world. Most other languages, and Christians prior to Christianity’s arrival in the English-speaking world referred to it by their language’s word for Resurrection, because that is the event that Easter celebrates. Even the hymnal on my desk calls it “The Resurrection of our Lord.” Ancient Christians who used Greek or Hebrew referred to this celebration using the same word, which had been used to refer to the Jewish holiday of Passover, which the Resurrection fulfilled, then replaced among Christians.
The scope of the celebration of the Resurrection does vary among the various branches of Christianity—from the simplest, which might fill only the day itself, marking it with special music or a more festive atmosphere for the morning’s service, to traditions where the celebration encompasses a significant period of time both before and after Easter itself. In the most extended traditions, churches may observe a season of solemnity and restraint, called Lent, for approximately six weeks before Easter as well as a season of eight weeks of celebration following Resurrection Sunday.
Many Christian churches also commemorate one or more holy days during the week before Easter (called Holy Week). These include Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a Donkey on “Palm Sunday” (one week before Easter), the establishment of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, remembering Jesus’ Crucifixion on Good Friday, and even an evening or all-night vigil of Scripture and prayer on Saturday night.
It is simply inconclusive whether commonly recognized Easter symbols in America, such as the Easter Bunny or decorated eggs, arose within Christian observance, or whether they were adopted from secular springtime traditions of our European ancestors. However, these symbols, regardless of their origin, do bear reminders of resurrection and new life, such as we can see the bursting of Jesus from His tomb as a chick hatches from an egg, or the return of life and growth to the earth in Spring as Jesus lived again after rising from death. So, even though the symbols are not the main thrust of Christian observances, they may still serve as illustrations and complimentary images to the core Christian observances of the Resurrection.