A Moveable Feast
Easter is the most important holiday in Christianity, as it commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In fact, Easter isn’t just one day, but refers to a period of reflection in the Christian church: the 40 days leading up to Easter are known as Lent, and represent the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness before he began ministering. The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week, which includes Maundy Thursday (marking the date of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples) and Good Friday (which is when Jesus was crucified). Then, after Easter Sunday, the following 50 days are often referred to as Eastertide in Christianity, celebrating Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
In the Western world, Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs after the first day of spring. This year, Easter is on Sunday, March 31. Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar to determine what day Easter will take place, and usually observe the holiday a week or two after Western churches.
What’s in a Name?
It’s not very clear where the name “Easter” comes from. Some attribute the word to Eostre, a goddess of spring and fertility. However, Easter might be an old-school version of autocorrect: The Latin term hebdomada alba, an ancient reference to Easter week, later appeared in sources as esotarum in Old High German, which eventually morphed into Easter in English.
In Spanish and French, the term for Easter (Pascua and Paques, respectively) infers part of the story behind the holiday. Both words come from the Latin Pasch, for Passover, since Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are said to have taken place after he journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew).
Plus: Learn about the Passover story
Even though Easter is an important holiday in the Christian church, some of its symbols are probably of pagan origin. Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’ emergence from his tomb—but the egg also symbolized new life throughout civilization, and has been linked with pagan springtime festivals. Regardless, decorating eggs for Easter has been a tradition since the 1200s. This might be because eggs are not supposed to be eaten during Lent, so Christians would decorate them to mark the end of the Lenten season and then eat them to celebrate Easter. Chocolate eggs began being made as an Easter treat in Europe in the early 1800s.
Some Bunny to Love
Just like Easter eggs, the Easter bunny may have pagan origins. Since the furry little guys have been well-known for procreating rapidly for centuries, they were an ancient symbol of fertility. The first documented mention of the Easter bunny occurred in the 1500s. By the 1700s, German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area had introduced the legend to America.
According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called "Osterhase" or "Oschter Haws." Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs.
Today, 90 million chocolate Easter bunnies and 16 billion jelly beans are manufactured every year. Every day, five million marshmallow chicks and bunnies are made to help everyone (whether you’re observing Easter or not) to welcome spring. According to the National Confectioners Association, 76 percent of people eat the ears on chocolate bunnies first—how about you?