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 April 2009 - Nr. 4
Happy Easter - Frohe Ostern
Dick Altermann at the computer

All about Easter

Easter is the most important religious celebration in the Christian liturgical year. Christians believe that Jesus was resurrected three days after the crucifixion and they calebrate this event on Easter Sunday, two days after Good Friday.

The chronology of his death and resurrection is estimated to have occurred between the years 26 and 36 A.D. Easter is also known as Eastertide and traditionally lasted for the fourty days from Easter Day until ascension Day – but now officially lasts for the 50 days until Pentecost. It is a movable event and not fixed in relation to the civil calendar and can fall at some point between late March and late April, following the cycle of the Moon. After several centuries of disagreement all churches accepted the computation of the Alexandrian – now the Coptic – church that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, which is the first moon whose 14th day (the ecclesiastic "full moon") is on or after March 21st – the ecclesiastic "vernal equinox"- where night and day are of roughly equal length.

Easter is linked to the Jewish ‘Passover’ not for its symbolism but also for its position in the calendar – as is Spring Break, a secular school holiday (usually a week long) celebrated at various times across North America and characterized by road trips and bachanalia. Cultural elements, such as the Easter Bunny, have become part of the holiday’s modern celebrations, and those aspects are often celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike.

The modern English term "Easter" developed from the Old English word Eastre or Eostre, which itself developed prior to 899. The name refers to Eostur-monath, a month of the Germanic calendar as named after the goddess Eostre of Anglo-Saxon paganism.

In 1835, Jacob Gromm proposed an equivalent Old High German name, ‘Ostara’, in his work Deutsche Mythologie. An amount of scholarly theory and speculation surrounds the figure. But modern German now has ‘Ostern’.

Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a mid-2nd century Paschal homily, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one. Evidence for another kind of Christian festival, the commemoration of martyrs, begins to appear at about the same time as evidence for the celebration of Easter. But while martyrs’ "birthdays" were celebrated on fixed dates in the local solar calendar, the date of Easter was fixed by means of the local Jewish lunisolar calendar.

In Western Christianity, Easter marks the the end of lent – a period of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts fourty days (not counting Sundays). The week before Easter, known as Holy Week, is very special in the Christian tradition. The Sunday befor Easter is Palm Sunday and the last three days before Easter are ‘Maundy Thursday’ or Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday – also referred to as ‘Silent Saturday’ – these days respectively commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion and are sometimes referred to as the Easter Triduum (Latin for "Tree Days").

At Easter, popular customs reflect many ancient pagan survivals – in this instance, connected with spring fertility rites, such as the symbol of the Easter egg and the Easter hare or rabbit. In the ancient world people were far more connected to the land and cycles of nature than we are today. They depended on the land’s fertility and crops to survive. Spring, when fertility returned to the land after the long desolation of winter, was a much-anticipated and welcome time for them.

Many peoples celebrated the coming of Spring with celebrations and worship of their gods and goddesses, especially those associated with fertility. Among such deities were Baal and Astarte or Ashtoreth, mentioned and condemned frequently in the bible, whose worship typically included ritual sex to promote fertility throughout the land. It was only naturally to the peoples of the ancient Middle East to incorporate symbols of fertility – such as eggs and rabbits, wich reproduce in great numbers – into those pagan celebrations for their gods. Easter eggs and the Easter rabbit are simply a continuation of these ancient spring fertility rites.

Happy EasterWell, this is no longer the overriding reason that we celebrate this annual event. Let everyone chose their reason and way to celebrate Easter. I keep with Goethe and his conclusion of his well-known poem ‘Osterspaziergang’: "Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ich’s sein!"

Frohe Ostern!
Happy Easter!

Dick Altermann

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Dick reports about community, historical, cultural, ethnic events within the distribution area of Echo Germanica from a German-Canadian perspective.

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