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Definition: Easter from Philip's Encyclopedia

Feast celebratiing the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. It is the oldest and greatest Christian feast, celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon between March 21 and April 25.

Summary Article: Easter
From Cultural Studies: Holidays Around the World

Easter is the principal feast of the Christian year, despite the popularity and commercialization that surrounds CHRISTMAS. According to the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene came to the cave where Jesus had been buried and found the tomb empty. An angel of the Lord told her that Jesus had risen. The anniversary of his resurrection from the dead is joyfully celebrated by Christians every year with special services, music, candlelight, flowers, and the ringing of church bells that had remained silent during LENT.

For Greek Orthodox Christians, the sorrow of GOOD FRIDAY lifts with the service of the Holy Resurrection on Saturday night in a dimly lit church. At midnight, all lights are extinguished, the door to the altar opens and the priest, holding a lighted candle, appears and proclaims that Christ is risen. The congregants light their candles from the priest's, bells ring, people turn to each other and say, Christos Anesti, “Christ is risen,” and receive the reply, Alithos Anesti, “He is risen indeed.”

Easter is a movable holiday whose day of observation has for centuries been painstakingly calculated. This is because its day of observance is determined initially by the lunar calendar, like PASSOVER, but then must be put into terms of the solar calendar. The Council of Nicea in 325 c.E. set the formula for calculating the date of Easter still in use today. After many centuries of controversy among Christians, Western Christendom settled on the use of the Gregorian calendar (Eastern Christians use the Julian calendar to determine Easter), decreeing that Easter shall be celebrated on the Sunday after the full moon on or following the VERNAL EQUINOX. If the full moon is on a Sunday, Easter is held the next Sunday. In the East, Easter can occur between April 4 and May 8, but it must come after Passover has ended.

The name for Easter may have come from Eostre, the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, whose feast was celebrated around this same time. There is also a Germanic goddess named Ostara who was always accompanied by a hare— possibly the ancestor of our modern Easter Bunny. The association of both the rabbit and eggs with Easter is probably the vestige of an ancient springtime fertility rite.

Although Easter has retained a greater religious significance than Christmas, many children in the United States think of it as a time to get new spring clothes, to decorate eggs, and to indulge in the chocolate and jelly beans that the Easter Bunny has left in their Easter baskets.

In Belgium, throughout Walloonia, the priest gives a number of unconsecrated priest's wafers to young children to sell to householders. The proceeds are given to the needy parish families, and the wafers are nailed over the front doors to protect the families from evil.

In Ethiopia, Easter is called Fasika and is welcomed in the capital city of Addis Ababa at dawn with a 21-gun salute.

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