The most important holiday for Christians will be here soon! Easter is just around the corner! If you thought that Christmas was the most important religious holiday we had, think again! As much as there is fanfare, music, and crazy amounts of money spent on Christmas, it’s not actually the most important holiday we celebrate. There are lots of different traditions, religious sacraments, and even foods and events that are associated with Easter, so let’s take a quick look at what we do and why we celebrate!
First of all, let’s cover the “why” of it all. Without Easter, the birth of Christ means no more than any other child’s birth and Christmas doesn’t exist as a holiday. Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection are central to the Christian faith. We believe that the ultimate sacrifice of Him laying down his life for ours and then showing His power even over death is the way that we are brought into the family of God. Easter is the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and fulfillment of God’s promise. If Easter never comes, Christmas never matters, so it is a time of great significance and celebration.
There are many traditions that surround Easter, but one you might be fairly familiar with is Lent. You may have noticed several of your social media “friends” have gone silent for a couple of weeks after having given it up for Lent. Lent is customarily observed by more orthodox and traditional denominations like Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholics, Episcopalian, and by Eastern Orthodox Churches. Not as many Protestant denominations formally observe it, but many within those congregations still choose to as a way of preparing themselves for the Easter season. It begins 6 and half weeks before Easter and lasts 40 days until Easter Sunday. The beginning of Lent is Ash Wednesday, which, being protestant, I admittedly know little about, but you may remember seeing people that day with a cross drawn with ash on their forehead. For Lent, Christians often choose something to willingly give up and fast from for the next 40 days. Pro-tip: don’t choose coffee; you need it to get through everything else going on this season! Lent sacrifices help to simulate and remember when Jesus went into the wilderness, fasted for 40 days, and was tempted but did not sin as he prepared to begin his time of earthly ministry. Each time we are tempted to have/do/use whatever we give up, we are reminded to pray, focus on God, and remember his sacrifice.
Holy week is the week before Easter and begins the Sunday before. Palm Sunday is when we remember Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem, knowing he was going there to die. He was welcomed like a king but would be put to death on a cross by those same people days later. It also includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.
There are lots of fun things that happen around Easter as well! Many are “Spring” themed, so people of all faiths participate. Of course, there are Easter egg hunts with the Easter Bunny and carnivals with face painting and such. Traditionally, these celebrate the “rebirth” that Easter and springtime both bring! Many families will also create an Easter basket for their children to open on Easter morning – usually from the Easter Bunny. Children enjoy everything from candy to small prizes or gifts in their baskets. We also do Resurrection Eggs with our kids. These come as a dozen plastic eggs that have small trinkets inside. It’s kind of like an Advent calendar for Easter. We open up one egg each day starting 12 days before and tell the part of the Easter story each trinket corresponds to. The kids really enjoy seeing which one will come out each day.
On Easter Sunday everyone dresses nicely for church that morning. Your Easter best is super important and, if you are from the deep South, the likelihood is high that your family will be color-coordinated. Its only natural that while you are nicely dressed and all together, there will be a family photo! I have many sweet memories of my Grandpa taking a thousand pictures, convinced he can get one where all the cousins are looking! Then it’s on to that Easter meal!
Food! My favorite part of any holiday! I saved the best for last. Obviously, the first food we think about is eggs! We talked about the plastic ones earlier, but most Easter meals include deviled eggs of some kind. Eggs are symbolic of rebirth, which is a major theme of Christian belief. Historically, eggs were encouraged to be part of Lent sacrifice so Easter would have been the first time they were allowed in several weeks and would have been an important part of the meal. Lamb is also considered a tradtional Easter food, as Jesus is known as the sacrificial Lamb of God – taking our place and receiving God’s wrath instead of us. Hot cross buns have long been an Easter favorite, but “empty tomb rolls” have become a modern tradition over the past few years. They involve wrapping a marshmallow in crescent roll dough and baking it. We tell the story of Jesus (the marshmallow) going into the tomb (the crescent roll) and on the third day he was no longer there! He is risen! When you bake it, the marshmallow melts and leaves the shell of the tomb. They are a yummy (and sticky) way to tell the Easter story, especially with kids.