Easter Sunday is preceded by Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance culminating in Holy Week, and followed by a 50-day Easter Season that stretches from Easter to Pentecost.
Over the centuries, these religious observances have been supplemented by popular customs, many of were incorporated from springtime fertility celebrations of European and Middle Eastern pagan religions.
The name of the holiday is derived from the name of an ancient, pagan goddess, Eastre, sometimes spelled Eostre, the goddess of spring who was worshipped by the Teutonic tribes to whom the early Christians ministered.
Jesus is portrayed here hung on a cross alongside two convicted thieves.
At this point, the history of Easter becomes a little complicated. The early missionaries, seeking to convert the people of the Teutonic tribes, adopted the celebration of Eastre’s festival as their own. Since the festival fell around the same time as the Christian’s memorial of the resurrection of Jesus, the missionaries simply substituted one holiday for another, allowing new converts to continue their tradition, but with a much different meaning and purpose.
The history of Easter wouldn’t be complete without mention of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs. Both of these common symbols of Easter are derived from ancient, pagan traditions. Eastre’s pagan symbol was the rabbit or hare. Exchanging eggs, which symbolized rebirth and renewal, was also a common tradition in the Teutonic tribes.
Christians view the Easter eggs as symbols of joy and celebration (they were forbidden during the fast of Lent) and of new life and resurrection. A common custom today is hiding brightly colored eggs for children to find.
With or without the Easter bunny, Easter today means victory over death for millions of Christians around the world, who celebrate this day in the history of Easter, when Jesus conquered death and rose again, bringing light, love and life to the world forever.