Sunday, April 5, 2015

Today in American History: Easter Sunday 04/05/2015

Today in American History:  The History of Easter Sunday in America

Today is Easter Sunday in the United States, referred to as Eastrun in Old English or Pascha in Greek.  Easter Sunday is the culmination of the Christian celebration called Holy Week.  Holy Week begins on Monday and leads into Maundy Thursday as a part of the Easter Triduum.  The Easter Triduum includes Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper and Good Friday.  Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, while Good Friday marks the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Resurrection Sunday, what we celebrate as Easter Sunday, occurs on the third day after Jesus' burial on Good Friday.  Resurrection Sunday is the end of the Lenten Season, a 40 day period of fasting, prayer and penance, which is the culmination of the Passion of Christ.

Easter is a popular holiday and celebration in America today, but it was not always celebrated in the way secular way we do today.  The early American settlers did not celebrate Easter at all because the majority of them were of the Protestant faith.  The early Protestants did not believe that religious celebrations and festivals added any value in worshipping God.  The recognized some of the rites and rituals that we associate with Resurrection Sunday in church today, but they were not celebrated in the way that today's Protestant faith celebrates the death and resurrection of Christ.  In fact, the majority of the rites that were celebrated by early Americans truly had roots in pagan celebrations of the passage into the spring season.

It wasn't until around the time of the Civil War in America that the Presbyterian Church began to take on some of the celebration that the European churches believed in.  They began celebrating the scars and sacrifice of Christ on the cross in worship services in the late 1850's.  The Presbyterians took from the traditions of the church in Poland, the country that celebrated Easter in the most robust way at the time.  

As the celebration of the resurrection of Christ spread to other protestant denomination in America, it also began to take on a secular popularity as well.  The Easter Bunny began to gain popularity as a cultural symbol of Easter in America in the early twentieth century, and were very popular with children in combination with the Easter Egg.  The Easter Bunny was depicted as a colorful rabbit that would bring Easter eggs to all the children.  The Easter Bunny originated as the Easter Hare amongst German Lutherans, and originally played the tole of judging whether or not children had been good or misbehaved.  In the German legend, the bunny would bring colored eggs in his basket with candy and sometimes small toys.  In this way, he was similar to Christkind -- which is similar to the American Santa Claus.  The custom of the Easter Bunny bringing eggs to children was first mentions in the 1682 book "De Ovic Paschalibus" by Georg Franck von Francenau.  The pagan roots of the celebration of the passage into the spring, or rebirth, are rooted in the pagan goddess of spring.  The pagan ritual marked the celebration of the Spring Equinox (March 21st)  and the goddess who ushered in the fresh flowers, sunshine, fertility and cleansing rains was often depicted as a small hare, thus adding to our vision of the Easter season.

Many Americans do not understand the correlation between the bunny and the eggs -- making jokes about rabbits laying eggs, and of course there is the always popular Cadbury Easter Bunny commercials.  The tradition began in Eastern Europe in Poland for several reasons.  From a practical perspective, the Lenten season in the church commanded that Christians abstain from eating eggs.  And in order to make some use of the eggs, the church began boiling them in order to make them last longer and then eating them after breaking the fast.  There is some evidence that early Christians in Mesopotamia engaged in dying eggs red in memory of the Blood of Christ.  Some other countries have been known to use yellow and green to celebrate rebirth and springtime, lending to our celebration of Easter -- our celebration of springtime and rebirth -- through the coloring of hard boiled eggs.  In addition to these traditions, the Polish also saw eggs as a celebration of new life and root their use of eggs in their Easter celebrations as a celebration of being reborn in the resurrection of Christ, in addition to using it as a symbol of the empty tomb.  In addition, the pagan connection to Easter tells us that Egyptians and Persians saw the egg in a similar way, as a symbol of fertility and renewed life that was celebrated by coloring the eggs.

Today in America, even non-Christians celebrate the secular version of Easter with images of the Easter bunny and Easter egg hunts all over the country.  Americans have also embraced the symbology of using jelly beans as a sweet replacement for colorful dyed eggs in their Easter egg hunts.  The tradition of children waking up on Easter morning to a colorful basket filled with chocolate bunnies, colorful candies and small presents is ingrained in our culture that is rapidly approaching the popularity of Christmas in America.  As a holiday in America, Easter does not exist.  Because Easter is a moving holiday in the church (as dictated by the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD) the United States celebrates Easter on a Sunday which is traditionally a day of non-work.  Therefore, the United States government does not recognize Easter as an official holiday.  Many businesses and schools celebrate Easter Monday by having the day off, and even the White House holds its Annual Easter Egg Roll on the Monday following Easter on the lawn of the White House.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

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