Easter is one of the most important holidays of the year. This is true for Christians and secular communities alike throughout much of the western hemisphere. What's more, Easter creates an international market that demands all of the goods, decorations and sweet treats associated with this holiday. But what are the origins of this springtime tradition?
Many traditions of Easter can be traced back to pagan roots. For many cultures, the springtime was a cause for celebration after a long winter. It was a time to celebrate by eating the last of the cured meats stored for the winter, usually ham, and recognizing the importance of deities associated with fertility and springtime. In fact, even the name of the holiday has a parallel in Greek mythology. Eostre was the goddess of spring for the ancient Greeks, and was celebrated at the equinox on March 21 of every year. Among her symbols were a hare that was able to lay multi-colored eggs. So, the next time you unwrap a delicious chocolate egg wrapped in colorful foil, you are carrying on a modernized tradition that has lasted millennia.
The Resurrection and Easter
Of course, what you now probably most associate with Easter are the Christian traditions celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. From the sunrise service to the traditional feast in the afternoon, Christians and those living in countries with a high percentage of Christians in the population often take part in the Easter traditions regardless of their personal beliefs. For many, it is a chance to come together with family and celebrate the arrival of springtime.
Easter is one of the movable feasts on the Christian calendar. In 325 A.D, The Council of Nicaea established the observance of Easter upon the first Sunday following the full moon after the equinox, So, Easter is now celebrated anywhere from March 22nd to the 25th of April, depending upon the year.
Whether in the Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox traditions, the celebration of Easter takes place on the same day. Many churches hold a sunrise service, often outdoors with the congregation facing to the east and the rising sun. The symbolism of this is confirmed by the traditions of responding to the priest or pastor with a confirmation of the resurrection. When the celebrant proclaims, "Christ is risen," the congregation responds with "He is risen indeed!"
The Commercial Importance of Easter
For many people, Easter is now an opportunity to celebrate with colored eggs, candies, and greeting cards. The financial importance of this holiday can not be underestimated. In the U.S., over $2 billion is spent on chocolate eggs alone. In total spending, Easter supports an industry worth $14.6 billion annually, and for many makers of greeting cards, decorations and candies, the holiday represents a welcome injection of capital during very quiet part of the year for holiday-related sales.
No matter if you enjoy Easter in its most sacred religious context or as an opportunity to enjoy a lavish meal with friends and family, you are taking part in a worldwide tradition. And with summer coming soon after, it is a chance for everyone to shake off the winter cold and begin to prepare for more hopeful days of sunshine and warmth ahead.