A look at the history of Easter

From time to time, I like to look into the history of an upcoming holiday or celebration and provide some background on its origin.

To our Harrison Family, 

From time to time, I like to look into the history of an upcoming holiday or celebration and provide some background on its origin. I have done so in the past for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Memorial & Labor Day, along with Christmas and Hanukkah. Clearly, Easter has a particularly significant meaning for the 2.5 billion Christians on the planet, as it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Similar to other holidays, the annual timing of the Easter celebration is connected to the change of seasons. Easter falls in close proximity to a key point in the solar year: the vernal equinox (around March 20), when there are equal periods of light and darkness. For those in northern latitudes, the coming of spring is often met with excitement, as it signifies the end of winter.

Spring also means the coming back to life of plants and trees that have been dormant during winter, as well as the birth of new life in the animal world. Given the symbolism of new life and rebirth, it was only natural to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year. The naming of the celebration as “Easter” seems to go back to the name of a pre-Christian goddess in England, Eostre, who was celebrated at the beginning of spring.

It is important to point out that while the name “Easter” is used in the English-speaking world, many more cultures refer to it by terms best translated as “Passover” (for instance, “Pascha” in Greek), clearly a reference to the Jewish festival of Passover.

In the Hebrew Bible, Passover is a festival that commemorates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, as described in the Book of Exodus. It was and continues to be an important Jewish seasonal festival, celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

At the time of Jesus, Passover had a special significance, as the Jewish people were again under the dominance of foreign powers (namely, the Romans). Jewish pilgrims would stream into Jerusalem every year with the hope of being liberated once more. One such pilgrimage included Jesus and his disciples, as he entered the city in a triumphal procession and created a disturbance in the Jerusalem Temple. Brought to the attention of the Romans, these actions lead to his execution by crucifixion around the year 30 A.D. 

In the following days, with the tomb of Jesus inexplicably empty, some of his followers had sightings and interactions with Jesus after his death. These experiences gave birth to the Christian religion. Since Jesus died during the Passover festival and his followers believe he was resurrected from the dead three days later, it is logical to commemorate these events in close proximity.

Considering the significance of all this, where does the Easter Bunny come in, lol? Well, from the 17th century on, European cultures had an increased focus on making childhood a joyous time and each holiday celebration included such elements. Decorated eggs had been part of the Easter festival since medieval times. However, it wasn’t until the 1600’s that a German tradition was born when an “Easter hare” would bring eggs to all the good children. German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania in the 18th & 19th centuries brought this tradition to America.

On behalf of our township leadership team, have a wonderful Easter weekend.

Together for Harrison Township,
Lou Manzo
Your Mayor