Easter Family Traditions

Annual Easter family traditions celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Christ after His illegal trials, horrific beatings, cruel crucifixion, and solemn burial. For many worshippers, this significant day begins with a special sunrise worship service. Often held outside, this Easter Sunday service is usually someplace where participants can watch the sun light up the skies as it comes up over the horizon. Many churches plan a sunrise event followed by a breakfast. A multi-denominational sunrise event, attended by thousands, is held in different locations in the USA. Countless local residents join Christians in singing, listening to guest speakers, and prayer. Such times of worship and spiritual renewal are the highlight of the days and weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday.

An Easter Sunday service focuses on the inspirational and religious symbols associated with Jesus' death on the cross, the burial in a borrowed tomb, and the details surrounding the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances. A cross, perhaps with a crown of thorns placed on the cross beam, may be strategically placed as the centerpiece of worship. The large thorns and wooden cross remind worshippers of the cruel treatment Jesus endured as part of His trials and the crucifixion. But the good news is that Jesus conquered death. White lilies, often used to decorate churches on this special day, symbolize the hope of eternal life. Dramatic or musical representations of the historic event, the foundation for Christianity, may be presented as part of the service. After worshipping together, extended family members may gather together for a specially-prepared dinner. These annual Easter family traditions of worshipping, dining, and spending time together create memories for children to pass along to their own future families.

Throughout the Bible, Jesus is often referred to as the Lamb of God. It is not a coincidence that Jesus laid His head upon the cross, choosing the moment of His last breath, at exactly 3:00 in the afternoon. This, after all, was the time for the Passover lambs to be slaughtered. Jesus' death signaled an end to the Old Testament sacrifice as He is the perfect sacrifice, slain to take away the sins of the world. The Holy Week, lasting from Palm Sunday, the day commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to Resurrection Sunday provides many opportunities for observing Easter family traditions, especially ones that will help children understand the miracle being celebrated. For many denominations, the holy time begins on Ash Wednesday, "the Day of Ashes" (dies cinerum). This is the first of the forty days of Lent, a time of fasting and prayer. The practice of a priest forming the sign of the cross on parishioners' foreheads with ashes dates back to the eighth century. On Good Friday, Christians remember the day Jesus was crucified by the Roman soldiers. This is an appropriate day for meditating on what are known as the "seven sayings" -- the words Jesus spoke while on the cross. Worshipping God with loved ones at an Easter Sunday service is the highlight of this holy time of the year.

The apostle Matthew wrote these words in the gospel bearing his name: "In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there as a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. . . . And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not year: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said, Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Matthew 28:1-2, 5-6). Passages like this will be the focus of many Resurrection Day worship services. Because the Easter Sunday service is the most attended service of the year, it's a wonderful opportunity to proclaim the gospel message of how Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies to redeem His followers from sin and give them the gift of eternal life with the Heavenly Father. The bare cross and the empty tomb are powerful symbols of the truths of this message as they symbolize Jesus' power over death. The amazing evidence of the historic facts provides a sure foundation for faith and belief.

The date of Easter changes each year because it is based on the ecclesiastical full moon as set by ecclesiastical tables. The fixing of the date was first established by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. under the leadership of the Roman Emperor Constantine who was a Christian. At that time, the date was set as occurring on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox, March 21. Throughout the centuries, revisions were made to this method. Pope Gregory XIII replaced the Julian calendar (named for Julius Caesar) with what came to be known as the Gregorian calendar, the one we use today. A mathematical algorithm is used in creating the ecclesiastical tables. The ecclesiastical full moon usually, but not always, is the same as the lunar full moon. By the established dating rules, Easter occurs sometime between March 22 and April 25. Whatever Easter family traditions that a person chooses to keep, the focus should be on the unique historical event it commemorates -- the Resurrection of the Son of God

When Is Easter Celebrated

The question, When is Easter celebrated, is asked each year, because the holiday is traditionally recognized on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21st. Christians and non-Christians alike have celebrated Easter Sunday between late March and late April. It seems as if only retailers are sure of when the holiday is celebrated, since Easter merchandise usually appears in the stores before the last Valentine's Day rose withers. While commercialism has taken over one of the most reverent holidays in Christianity, some religions still maintain strict observances of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, beginning with special services commemorating Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, and Lent, a season of self-denial and fasting. Most denominations also faithfully observe Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus' descent from the Mount of Olives, as the multitude waved palm leaves, welcoming Christ as King. Christians also observe Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, which lead up to Christ's crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection on what some term, Easter Sunday.

Over the years, the meaning of easter has become greatly diminished through a lack of spiritual understanding and a misinterpretation of the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Easter celebrated by Christians and those of other faiths has become a holiday marked by customs and traditions which actually have pagan origins. The name, Easter, is believed to have been derived from an ancient pagan goddess, Astarte, sometimes spelled Eostre or Ostara. To pagan worshippers, Astarte symbolized the celebration of spring, a time of birthing and renewal, as the earth brought forth new life and the entire creation awakened from a dark, winter solstice. The pagan goddess also represented fertility, hence the decoration of hard boiled eggs and mythical egg-laying bunny rabbits.

Some cultures still decorate eggs for religious or ceremonial purposes, usually connected with the birth of a child, good luck, or idol worship. Sweets carried in small baskets may hearken back to a time when pagan worshippers offered gifts to Astarte and other idols in hopes of reaping a bountiful harvest from fertile fields. But the Bible clearly warns against such idolatry: "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent. Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised Him from the dead." (Acts 17:29-31)

As Christianity spread throughout the world, believers began incorporating pagan symbolism and traditions into the Church. Through the adoption of these customs, the meaning of easter has become lost, even in modern day religions. But the death, burial and subsequent Resurrection of Jesus Christ has nothing at all to do with when is Easter celebrated or with colored eggs and chocolate bunnies. To fully grasp the meaning of easter, one must know who Jesus is. Over 2,000 years ago, the Son of God was sent by the Father to redeem mankind from sin committed by the first man Adam. Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, a fifteen-year-old girl who conceived the holy seed through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Jesus grew up in the home of natural parents, Joseph and Mary, complying with Jewish traditions and customs. Christ's earthly ministry began at the age of 30, after being baptized by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. During the baptism, God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit; and immediately, Christ was led into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan for 40 days and nights. At the end of the temptation, Jesus emerged from the wilderness victorious and empowered for service. Over the next three and a half years, Christ healed the sick, raised the dead, taught the 12 disciples, and destroyed the works of the devil.

The religious sects of Jesus' day sought to silence and kill this man who they say claimed to be the Son of God. Betrayed by one of the twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot, for just 30 pieces of silver, Jesus was captured, judged, and wrongfully found guilty of heresy by Pontius Pilate. Christ was beaten 39 times with a scourge, a rope of twisted whips with pieces of bone and metal at the ends that shredded Christ's flesh. Jesus was nailed to Calvary's Cross, the blood streaming down from a nearly lifeless body. After His gruesome death, Roman soldiers lifted the body from the Cross and laid it in a borrowed tomb. But, on the third day, Jesus Christ arose triumphantly, defeating death, hell and the grave, and redeeming mankind from the penalty of death imposed by Adam's transgression.

Anyone who truly understands the meaning of easter and of Christ's self-less act would find it difficul to mar that holy day with images of bunnies, eggs, and baskets. Many Christians prefer to call the day which commemorates the redemptive work of Christ at the Cross, "Resurrection Sunday." Those who still ask, When is Easter celebrated might consider this: Easter, as is commonly known, is celebrated only once each spring; but the Resurrected Savior can be celebrated every day of the year. When is Easter celebrated? When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we begin a continual celebration of the new life that can only be found in Christ. "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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