Easter is the main feast of the Christian liturgical year, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on the third day after the crucifixion. It is also the time that the Jews commemorate the liberation of their people from the Egyptian yoke. The Passover festival was fixed by the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows or precedes March 21. If the full moon falls on March 20th, then the next full moon will be on April 18th (29 days later). If this day is a Sunday, then Easter will be on April 25th. So, the feast of Easter oscillates between March 22 and April 25, and the dates of all other movable feasts depend on its date: Passion, Palms, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity and the feast of God (body of God or of the Holy sacrament).
Its origins date back to the early days of Christianity and it is probably the oldest Christian commemoration that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The name Passover comes from the Aramaic pasha, in Hebrew pesah. Its etymological meaning is uncertain. Some look for it in an Egyptian root meaning “blow” or “wound”. There are those who prefer to link the word to the Syriac, which would mean “to be happy”. However, the generally accepted meaning is what it acquired in Biblical Hebrew: “skip”, “pass on”. In the book of Exodus the word relates to the night when Yahweh smote the firstborn of Egypt and “spared” or “skipped” the houses of the Israelites whose doorposts were painted with the blood of the paschal lamb.
CUSTOMS OF THE PASCHAL LITURGY
As the passion and death of Jesus coincided with the Jewish Passover, various customs and symbols of this feast were incorporated into Christian traditions. Some customs of the paschal liturgy, such as lighting the first fire on Sunday, disappeared with the loss of their symbolic meaning in Western civilization. Other customs remained only in the East. In the Iberian countries and in their former colonies, the “burning of Judas” still persists, a habit condemned by the Church, which consists of symbolically lynching, on Hallelujah Saturday, the apostle who betrayed Christ.
The Catholic Church in the preparations for the Paschal Vigil follows a scheme in which all themes and symbolism are gradually presented. In November, the preparation begins with instructions on the sacraments. Lent is practical preparation through penance. On Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is celebrated, to the applause of the same crowd that will see him crucified at the end of the week.
Christ’s sacrifice is remembered on Passion Friday. By order of Pope Pius XII, since 1951 the Hallelujah Saturday Mass has been celebrated at midnight, in the transition to Sunday. In Protestant churches, Easter Saturday celebrations are the culmination of a series of religious services held during Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday.
The Fish – Christians have been recognized by the fish symbol for many years. The relationship with Easter lies in the fact that the appearances of Jesus, after the resurrection, are always linked to the presence of fish.
The Palms – Holy Week already begins on the previous Sunday, when the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is remembered. The people welcomed him by waving palm branches. This ritual is still respected today.
The Lamb – means Christ sacrificed for his flock.
The Cross – which mystifies the whole meaning of Easter, the resurrection and also the suffering of Christ. At the Council of Nicaea (325 AD), Constantine decreed the cross as the official symbol of Christianity, not just a symbol of Easter, but the primordial symbol of the Catholic faith.
The Bread and Wine – symbolize eternal life, the body and blood of Jesus, offered to his disciples at the Last Supper, to celebrate eternal life.
The Paschal Candle – the big candle that is lit up in the hallelujah. It means: “Christ, the light of the peoples”. The Greek letters Alpha and Omega engraved on it mean: “God is the beginning and the end of all things”.
The Easter Bunny – because it is an animal with the ability to generate large litters, the image of the bunny symbolizes fertility and the Church’s ability to constantly produce new disciples.
The Easter Egg – symbolizes birth, the beginning of a new life. The custom of presenting people at Easter time with ornate and colored eggs began in antiquity. Early Mesopotamian Christians were the first to use colored eggs. In some European countries, eggs are colored to represent the joy of resurrection. In Britain, it was customary to write messages and dates on eggs that were given to children with other gifts. In Armenia they decorated hollow eggs with portraits of Christ and the Virgin Mary and other religious images.
In the 13th century France, students from the University of Paris would go out in procession, to collect Easter gifts, mainly eggs, to later hand them out to friends, colleagues, relatives and neighbors. The King of France distributed baskets of golden eggs on this occasion. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Easter eggs served as artistic motifs, some were true works of art. The custom is common to all Catholic countries. It is worth noting that the eggs were not edible, at least as it is now known.
In Brazil, the fashion started after 1920, especially in the big cities of the South, where Easter eggs came from Paris, brought as souvenirs for friends. It slowly became popular and chocolate eggs and sweet dough appeared in confectioneries. Today, chocolate factories mobilize months in advance to meet demand.
There are eggs from all sources, from small home-made eggs to large national and multinational factories. The variety of Easter eggs is also very large, in terms of flavors and sizes. Easter Sunday is the day to offer eggs.
Recife, March 30, 2007.
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PEQUENO dicionário enciclopédico Koagan Larousse. Direção de Antonio Houaiss. Rio de Janeiro: Ed. Larousse do Brasil, 1979.
OS SÍMBOLOS da Páscoa. Available at: http://www.guiadasemana.com.br/noticias.asp?ID=23&cd_news=24724&cd_city=1. Accessed: 16 mar. 2007.
VERBO enciclopédia luso-brasileira de cultura. Lisboa: Editorial Verbo, 1963.
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ANDRADE, Maria do Carmo. Easter symbols. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2007. Available at: https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/artigo/easter-symbols/. Accessed on: month day year. (Ex.: Aug. 6 2005.)