Paramount Christian holiday, which by definition commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. Easter, when celebrated along with Holy Week, commemorates the last days of Jesus' life, his death and his resurrection, a holiday lasting for up to 9 days.
Both Easter, along with the Good Friday remembrance, and Christmas have important and contrasting significance for the life of the Christian. The death and resurrection of Jesus, is by most Christian definitions the birth of Christianity, as Jesus' death and resurrection secured eternal life for humankind.
Although the core of Christian Easter celebration is a true commemoration of the incidents described in the Gospels, the Jewish celebration of Pesach has had its influence. Firstly, the Christian Easter takes place about the same time as Pesach. This has an easy explanation, since the Last Supper, the important last meal that Jesus shared with the disciples, took place just days before his crucifixion. This meal is believed to have been part of the Jewish Pesach celebration.
A common theory is that influences from pagan traditions have had their impact on Easter celebrations, including those from the Germanic goddess Eostre. The German and English names may have come from this. The custom of coloured eggs has its common elements from this cult. But there are also very ancient pre-Christian Slavic traditions for decorating eggs in spring, as well as Persian and Jewish traditions for celebrating spring with eggs.
In the Christian calendar, Easter follows Lent, a period of 40 days (exluding Sundays) when believers are expected to give much attention to penance and fasting.
The celebration of Easter has two parts, the preliminary stage, called Holy Week, and the actual Easter. The preliminary part starts with Palm Sunday and ends with Holy or Easter Saturday. Many Orthodox churches (see treatment on the term "orthodox") end Holy Week at midnight on Good Friday. See article on Holy Week for full treatment.
The following days of celebration are the real Easter. The celebrations may seem anti-climactic in comparison to those of Holy Week. In most countries, Easter is a time when Christians return to normal life and their work. During early Christianity, at least until the 4th century, this was the time for baptisms.
The fixing of the date of Easter has been a matter of debate, with many conflicting theories and disagreements.
Setting the date
Early Christians in Anatolia celebrated Easter on the same day that the Jews celebrated Pesach (Passover), a date fixed according to lunar cycles. Using this approach, the celebration of the resurrection would occur on no fixed week day.
Later on, it would become an important matter not to celebrate Easter on the same day as Pesach. Rules for this were incorporated into the system agreed upon in 325. With this system, Easter would always occur on the same weekdays, and would happen some time between March 22 and April 25.
Even today, Orthodox Christianity fixes Easter according to the Julian calendar, involving that it is celebrated later than Western Christianity's.
2nd century: First recorded celebration of Easter.
325: The Council of Nicaea decrees that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon following the spring equinox (March 21).
13th century: First instance of use of painted and decorated Easter eggs.