For Catholics and most other Christians all over the world, Easter is a solemn holiday that is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox; which is in late March to mid-April.
Easter Sunday, the Pascha, or Resurrection Sunday as it is also known, marks the third day after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the day of his miraculous resurrection, fulfilling the Messiah prophecy foretold in the Old Testament, (Isaiah 53).
How Do Catholics Celebrate Easter
Talking among ourselves, we found that much like our Catholic Christmas Traditions article; where we live or where we grew up can have an impact on the way we celebrate Easter.
For this reason we will be covering the core traditions here, before taking a look at the different Easter traditions that some of us have experienced.
Ash Wednesday and Lent
Marking the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday takes place 46 days before Easter Sunday. During Mass, the priest will apply ashes to the heads of willing participants.
A cross drawn in ash is applied upon the forehead, and symbolizes the dust that god made us from. It also represents our willingness to repent for sinning, and the grief we feel for having caused a division from God.
For 46 days, participants will fast on the Mondays to Saturdays over the next 6 weeks. Sundays are excluded from the fasting , which safely allows Christians to fast for 40 days during their Lent.
Those between the ages of 18 and 59, fast be limiting their daily meals to only one full meal, and two small snacks a day. The snacks are small enough that they don’t add up to a full meal when put together.
You need not fast by abstaining from all foods if you are unable to do so. Many Christians and children give up specific things, such as no chocolate, no eating out, or no playing games or watching movies.
For more information on Lent, please have a read of our Explanation of the Lent Tradition article.
Palm Sunday is both the final Sunday or the end of Lent, and the beginning of the Holy Week. The Holy Week commemorates Jesus Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem, and the last week of his life on earth.
During the Palm Sunday Mass, parishioners may be handed a palm leaf that they carry into the church. These palms have been blessed, and can be made into a cross or other personal devotion, and kept for a year. Otherwise the palms are returned to the church and turned into ash for the following year’s Ash Wednesday progressions.
Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, and his institution of the priesthood. Celebrating this meal as a Passover feats, Jesus shared his final meal with his Disciples in Jerusalem.
This was the night that he was betrayed by Judas, and during the meal he rightly predicted this betrayal. His willingness to face his fate, shows that he was willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of all mankind.
Known as the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Thursday mass is held in commemoration of Jesus Christ’s last supper. The Eucharist is particularly important in this Mass, for it was during this meal that Christ broke bread with his disciples and utters the words “This is my body, this is my blood” (Mark 14:22-25).
During the feast, Jesus also washed the feet of his 12 apostles, anointing them as his first priests. This humbling gesture is reenacted during mass. Some parishes may select 12 members to represent the apostles, other parishes may invite all parishioners to take part and have their feet washed.
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is a day of solemn reflection that is shared by most Christians around the world.
During Mass on Good Friday, Christians reflect on the pain and suffering that Jesus had to endure for us. He was flogged, given a crown of thorns, berated and ridiculed, and made to burden the weight of his cross as he was forced to carry it to the site of his execution.
While not all Christians may abstain from eating meat on Fridays, Good Friday is a day where all practicing Catholics abstain from red meat. Catholics that are 14 years and older, will either eat no meat at all, or limit themselves to only white meat such as fish or chicken.
Holy Saturday Night – Easter Vigil
Those who have been baptized as children, can take their Sacrament of Confirmation during an Easter Vigil that is held on Saturday evening. The vigil can also be held during the hours of darkness, between sunset Saturday, and sunrise Easter Morning. Depending on the region you live, these Confirmations may only be conducted at the stroke of Midnight, as the last rays of sun fade into the night sky, or at the early morning sunrise.
For more information on the confirmation process, please have a read of our Sacrament of Confirmation Process article.
Easter Sunday begins for most Catholics by attending the Easter Vigil Midnight Mass. Others begin their Easter Sunday with a morning mass. Following the morning mass, the parish may hold an Easter breakfast for their members. Or they may provide food to the less fortunate.
The average Catholic family, will either attend local community events, or spend the remainder of the day with loved ones. They may take part in parades, feasts, festivals, or watch live performances. Some of these events can be heavily inspired by the 14 Stations of the Cross, retelling the events of Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion.
Most events however are not traditionally inspired by the Bible directly. Whether its a secular tradition, uniquely cultural, or based on regional superstitions surrounding good luck; there are many non-biblical traditions that are enjoyed on Easter Sunday.
As we mentioned earlier in the article the geographical, and cultural environment you live or grew up in, can have an affect on the way you celebrate Easter outside of Church events.
In the northern hemisphere Easter is associated with spring, but in the southern hemisphere it is autumn. This small difference is enough to determine where and how people gather to celebrate Easter together.
Easter eggs are given out to loved ones, or used in games all over the world. Depending on where you live, you may have a regional tradition where eggs are hidden and people (namely children) need to find them. You could play egg roll in which an egg is either chased after as it rolls down a hill, or pushed along with a spoon. Or you may play egg toss games, where the winners are the last team to break their egg, or even take part in egg and spoon races where an egg is balanced on a spoon as you run around an obstacle course.
In America, Easter Eggs are more often then not, hard boiled eggs that have been dyed or painted bright colors. There are also some chocolate eggs, sugar “candy” eggs, and solid and hollow plastic eggs that are available for purchase as well.
In countries like England and Australia , chocolate eggs tend to be the norm, followed by chocolate Easter Bunnies. The sugar “candy” eggs are available for the lactose intolerant, but the plastic eggs both solid or hollow are almost unheard of.
Public and Federal Holidays
As Easter Day is on a Sunday, most countries around the world that celebrate Easter allow Christians to take the day off from work and school. But Good Friday and Easter Monday (the day after Easter) are not given public holiday status on a state or federal level.
Then there are countries like England and Australia. In countries like these, Good Friday and Easter Monday are considered to be Federal Holidays. Some even classify Easter Sunday as a Federal Holiday and require extra wages to be paid to anyone that is required to work on any or all of these days.
As there are countries that essentially have four day weekends over the Easter weekend, their citizens tend to take the time to travel around the country, and/or celebrate with festivals or private gatherings. It is common for lots of food and alcohol to be consumed during this time.
From parades, to carnivals, or even local festivals, there are many different ways that Catholics all over the world can take part in local community events.
In America there are different festivals that are held in different regions. There’s the Mardi Gras of New Orleans, the Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival of New York City, the Easter Pageant of Arizona, the White House Easter Egg Roll, and so many other festivals and float parades that are held in so many great American communities.
In Australia a carnival known as the Royal Easter Shower is held in Sydney, New South Wales, every year. With rides, performances, animal shows and competitions, and hundreds of “Easter Show Bags” full of toys or treats to purchase.
All across Europe, different cultures have their own traditions as well. In the town of Haux, France, a giant omelet is made, and served to the town’s people in the town’s main square. In Sweden, they have their own version of Halloween, where the kids dress up and go door to door exchanging drawings for treats.
Even though Catholics and Christians all over the world celebrate the Easter season in their way, it doesn’t change the true meaning of Easter for any of us. It is this common link in our beliefs that binds our faiths, and makes us who we are.
Please feel free to share your own local Easter traditions and customs with us in the comments below. Who knows, someone may suggest something you might want to take part in next Easter.