Today is Maundy Thursday, the day Christians celebrate the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples the evening before his death. It is one day in the midst of a series of holy days surrounding the holiday we know as Easter. In my study of cultures and traditions, I have found that understanding the traditions that surround a holiday can often add more meaning and appreciation to the event. Easter is a prime example.
Easter is a collection of holy days surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus. This event is the most significant festival in the Christian church, for without the resurrection, what good is faith in God? (1 Cor. 15) The season begins on Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded of our humanity. It is the first day of a period of fasting. Some Christian churches do not emphasize that aspect of the season, instead, beginning Holy Week on Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey.
The holiday escalates as Christian’s remember Jesus’ final week, his last super with his disciples, and then his trial and execution. Good Friday is a day of mourning, but for Christians, this mourning has an end. Hope shines through the darkness. Sunday morning is coming.
Easter Sunday is the day Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. They believe that Jesus bodily rose from the grave, conquering death forever. It is this hope that ignites faith. It is the power that sustained Christian’s many martyrs over the centuries and encourages believers to live righteously day-by day.
Today, Easter is an odd mix of religious meaning and fun traditions. Some Christians lean heavily on the mourning of Good Friday. Others look expectantly toward Easter Sunday. Still others combine both in various types of services and celebrations. In the midst of the spiritual, some Christians also enjoy the fun traditions, particularly aimed at children, while others ardently condemn those traditions as taking away from the meaning of such a significant Holy Day.
For those that do not celebrate the holiday as perhaps religious Christians do, many still see Easter Sunday as the one or two days a year that God pays attention to their church attendance, thus making the requisite visit to Easter Sunday mass or service. For others, they skip the religious meaning altogether, instead, focusing on the egg hunts, Easter Bunny, and a basket full of brightly colored candy.
Easter shares its holiday season with two other events. First, the Jewish celebration of Passover, a remembering of when God spared the firstborns of the Israelites and provided their escape from servitude in Egypt. Secondly, the ‘pagan’ spring-time celebrations of new life, fertility, and the ending of winter. It is believed that Christian’s Easter was meant to particularly coincide and thus overtake the later.
Though each person must observe a holiday as they see fit, I think understanding the whole picture around Easter can help us appreciate all the traditions as well as the spirit of this particular Holy Day. These can include spring cleaning (begun when the Israelites would remove all the leaven from their house in preparation for Passover), the joy of new birth (particularly celebrated by the ‘pagan’ festival), and the appreciation that death has no more power (because of Jesus’ resurrection).
In the end, winter is over. Spring has come. And with it life. Whether it be in the lengthening of daylight, the song bird’s return, the new baby animals, the green grass beginning to grow, or the spiritual rebirth from belief in Jesus. Indeed, this is the season when the old has gone and the new has come. What a celebration that can be!