If you are new to following Jesus, the Bible, or more generally Christianity as a whole, there’s plenty about the Easter Holiday that might be throwing you off. Here is a brief and practical guide to all things related to Easter to get you started on the right foot.
The Big Picture
The first thing you need to know is that Easter is the foundational holiday of the entire faith. While Christmas might get more fanfare, Easter owns the top slot in terms of meaning and importance. Easter commemorates the anniversary of when Jesus resurrected from the dead.
Why Does That Matter?
The reason Jesus’ resurrection matters so much is because of what’s called “the Gospel.” The Gospel is the basic teaching or core story of the faith. It is a word that means “good news.” It goes like this:
- God Made Humans to Live Forever with Him. God designed humans, like you and me, to have a relationship with him. In the beginning, it all went great. He loved us. We loved him.
- Humans Broke Up with God. But God made humans with the ability to choose. God is love. Whenever we choose anything outside of love (pride, selfishness, bitterness, envy, etc.), we are choosing something other than God. Such choices are called “sin.” Sin separates us from God. Since God is the sustainer of all life, this separation then eventually and inevitably leads to our death.
- Jesus Defeated Death. God still loved us and wanted us to live. So he promised to rescue us. He sent his Son, Jesus, to take our sins and die in our place. He was killed on a cross and then buried in a tomb. Three days after he died, he rose again (on Easter) proving that the path back to God had been restored. Anyone who wishes to be forgiven and have forever life needs only to trust in Jesus and what he did. Easter celebrates the day this became possible. But again, it’s still your choice. He has chosen you, but you must choose him, as well.
Common Ways to Celebrate Easter
Fast - It is common for observers to fast–which means abstaining from certain foods or activities–in the time leading up to Easter. This is symbolic of the suffering that Jesus faced in the time leading up to his torturous death.
Attend Church - Most observers will attend a church service on Easter and also in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. This is the reason most churches still have their meetings scheduled for the first day of the week. Most churches make special accommodations for visitors during the Easter season.
Celebration Meal - Following the church gathering, it is common to celebrate with a large meal. This meal has increased significance for those who have been fasting in the days or weeks leading up to this. The food at this meal varies wildly from region to region.
Reenactments - Many churches will also put on plays or reenactments of Jesus’ death and resurrection. These provide visual reminders of the holiday’s importance.
Egg Hunts - In many societies across time, eggs symbolize new life. Since the story of Easter is all about new life, the egg has long been a symbol of this holiday. However, the idea of hiding eggs did come until much later. The earliest record of this tradition goes to the 16th century when a church leader named Martin Luther organized an egg hunt for his church. The shell of the egg was said to represent the tomb that Jesus was buried in. The hunt was said to represent the two women who first looked into the tomb to realize Jesus was no longer dead. Many local churches will host egg hunts that are open to the public and especially geared towards children.
Why does Easter have a different date every year? Originally, people celebrated Easter on the Sunday following the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. However, as the centuries went by and societies changed the calendars they used, observers needed to translate the date of this holiday onto those different calendars. This causes the date to seemingly move as each year the date is still translated through different calendar systems.
Why is it called “Easter?” The first observers called the holiday “Passover,” which is the name of the Jewish holiday that occurred during this week. But as more and more observers came from non-Jewish backgrounds it became better known as “Resurrection Day.” But this sometimes changed again as the holiday entered yet other societies. When it arrived on the shores of the Anglo-Saxons, they already had a holiday for a goddess called “Eostre” around this time in the calendar. Even though they later stopped worshiping this other god, they never deleted it from the calendar. Because of this history, many observers who become aware of this prefer to say “Resurrection Day.” Just be sure to check the signage when visiting a church to ensure you use the right vernacular.
Bunnies don’t lay eggs. So why the bunny and eggs? The short version of this answer is that bunnies have long represented fertility and life, as have eggs. Since “new life” is the theme of the holiday, both awkwardly got added into the tradition.
What do I wear on Easter? White or other bright colors are typical for this day. If you are visiting a church on Easter Sunday, you may also find people there are dressed a notch more formal than average. This is not always the case, however, and you would be wise to check the church’s website or social media before attending.
How can I add Easter into my family's traditions?
- Read Something: Read or retell the resurrection story together as a family. You can find it in the Bible in John chapter 20.
- Eat Something: Cook up something fun with the family or celebrate with something sweet and indulgent. This holiday is meant to be very joyous, rather than somber. So celebrate with some good food.
- Join with Other Observers: Churches often make special efforts to make visitors feel welcome on this holiday. It’s a good day to try one out.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum of Easter celebrators, the most important thing for you to know is that you are welcome at the table. I hope you'll join us in celebrating the incredible gift of life we have because of what Jesus did for you and me.