As part of the ongoing updates on religious observance, I would like to share the upcoming traditions of Holy or Great Week and Easter or Pascha.
Holy (or Great) Week is the Christian set of holidays that commemorate the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ, beginning with Palm Sunday, running through Jesus’ crucifixion and concluding with Holy Saturday. Holy Week is then followed by Easter. Christians believe that Easter commemorates the date of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result, most Christians consider Easter to be the holiest day of the year.
Please note that while this piece was first posted in 2012, the dates have been updated for 2017 here.
Easter and Pascha are what is known as moveable feasts. Moveable feasts vary in the calendar according to a fairly complex set of calculations tied to the first Sunday following the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
In the Western traditions, these dates are figured on the Gregorian calendar (that used in most of the secular world). In the Coptic and Orthodox traditions, these dates are figured on the Julian calendar. As a result, the dates for Easter in the Western tradition usually comes four to five days earlier than the equivalent date for Pascha in the Eastern traditions.
For 2017, for all branches of Christianity share a common date: Sunday April 26. Both Holy Week and Great Week (the preferred name for most Eastern Orthodox traditions begin on Palm Sunday April 9 and culminate with Easter Sunday (Pascha in Eastern Orthodox and Coptic traditions) on April 26.
This is not the usual case, as Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Ethiopian Tewahedo Christian traditions usually fall at a later date than Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations.
Holy Week / Great Week
|Entry of Christ|
by Maximino Cereso
The first day of Holy Week is known as Palm Sunday to Protestants (and unofficially to Roman Catholics), as Passion Sunday to Roman Catholics (at least officially so since a formal name change in 1970), and as the Entry of the Lord into
They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,Many Christian traditions burn the fronds afterwards for use on Ash Wednesday of the following year. From this comes the tradition of processions with branches of some sort.
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Blessed is the King of Israel!"
|Palm Sunday Procession|
Mount of Olives
and ribbons while sitting on their parents’ shoulders and being marched around the church. In
The Thursday of Holy Week is known as Holy Thursday among Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations. It is known as Maundy Thursday among Anglican Protestants. Some Protestant churches (especially those of Scandinavian origin) use the term Sheer Thursday interchangeably with Holy Thursday. Regardless of name, the holiday commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper, the celebration of the Passover Seder with the disciples.
|Eastern Orthodox Red Pascha Eggs|
Many Orthodox traditions take place on Holy Thursday. Among most Orthodox, Holy Thursday is the day when traditional Pascha loaves (the type varies by nationality) are baked and eggs are dyed. Among Eastern Orthodox Christians, eggs are dyed red (representing the blood of Christ). In Greek Orthodox tradition, the first dyed egg is placed in front of the home’s iconstasis (the spot where the family icons stand).
Among Germans – both Catholic and Lutheran – eggs are also dyed on Holy Thursday, although there the color is traditionally green.
Among both Greek and Russian Orthodox, candles are lit during a portion of the church service – often called the “Thursday Fire”; these candles are then used to light the family’s lampada (an oil lamp) either at the church itself (among Russian Orthodox) or in the family home (among Greek Orthodox).
|Armenian Orthodox footwashing|
Among Filipino Catholics, it is customary to visit several churches as a way of keeping vigil as the disciples did when Jesus prayed at the
Good Friday / Great Friday
The Friday of Holy Week is called Good Friday among Roman Catholics and Protestants and as Passion, Holy or Great Friday among Eastern Orthodox. Regardless of name, the date marks the Crucifixion of Jesus on on Golgotha (or Calvary) Hill in
This date is a very somber holiday for all Christians. In many Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, the cross is covered or various ornaments are removed from the church. Among many Lutherans, after Good Friday services, the congregants leave the church and seal the doors (symbolic of the entombment of Christ).
Among Eastern Orthodox and some Roman Catholics, Good Friday is either a fast day or a partial fast day. This often varies by nationality. For example, among Catholics in
Other Good Friday national customs include setting a bonfire and burning straw effigies Judas in Portugal and covering mirrors as a sign of mourning in Poland. In many Roman Catholic countries – notably in Latin America and the
Holy Saturday / Great Sabbath
The Saturday before Easter/Pascha is called Holy Saturday by Roman Catholics and most Protestants, Easter Even by Anglicans, and the Great Sabbath or Great Saturday among the Copts and Eastern Orthodox. Regardless of the name, the holiday represents the day between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Among Roman Catholics and most Protestants, this is the day in which Christ died or rested in the tomb. For Copts and some Eastern Orthodox, it is a fast day.
Traditionally Roman Catholics abstained from meat but this tradition was stopped by the Pope in 1970. Among Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Holy Saturday is the only day in the year in which Mass is not celebrated.
While variations exist as to the nature of what Christ did during this time, most Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Roman Catholic and Mormon traditions attribute some form of Christ’s “harrowing of Hell” in which Jesus descended among the dead.
In Orthodox tradition, the church vestments are changed from black to white, symbolizing the saving of those captive in Hell; among Greek Orthodox, flower petals and laurel leaves are traditionally spread around the church to symbolize the broken shards of the gates of Hell. In Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran tradition, a holy vigil is held at night as Easter approaches.
Easter / Pascha
Easter or Pascha is the most important day of the Christian year. This is the celebration in all traditions of the resurrection of Christ. In all Christian faiths, special services are held. Among Roman Catholics, the lighting of a Paschal candle is part of the service, representing the risen Christ. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, many candles are lit for the same purpose.
Opposition to National and Secular Practices
The national customs associated with Easter or Pascha are numerous. It should be noted, though, that several fundamentalist Protestants sects such as (among others) adherents of the United Church of God International, Reform Adventism, and Jehovah’s Witness oppose national or secular practices on Easter for what they believe to be its pagan origins. This was also the official position of the Church of Scotland until the beginning of the 20th century.
|Some Protestant sects object to|
the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs
countries, including English.
Indeed, the etymology of the word "Easter" in English deriving from the pagan holiday Ostara has led some Protestant groups to call the holiday "Resurrection Day" in place of Easter.
They also object to the easter egg (or egg-shaped substitutions such as jelly beans) as having derived from the Persian worship of the fertility goddess Ishtar or other pre-Christian Persian traditions such as Zorastrianism's Naw-Rúz.
For more on Ostara, please see my earlier blog post at
For more on Naw-Rúz, please see my earlier blog post at
It should be noted that those groups opposed to national and secular practices nonetheless believe in the holiday's religiously Christian subject matter, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Their objections are only to what they believe to be national or secular practices.
National and Secular Traditions
For a great many Christians, Easter’s various national and secular traditions are well-loved and honored.
The Easter Egg
|White House Easter egg hunt|
The giving of Easter baskets with small toys and candy (notably jelly beans, chocolate eggs and bunnies, and marshmallow chicks called Peeps) to children is traditional. Sometimes, the baskets are hidden from the children who then must search to find them.
|Children meeting the Easter Bunny|
Howell, Michigan Nature Center
Many cities have official Easter parades. Some of the best-known annual Easter Parades in London,
National Easter-Related Customs Around the World
In part, this is because the bilby is a local animal, but in part this is because Australians are less fond of rabbits than many other nationalities are.
Easter in England traditionally feature Morris Dances. The first record of Morris Dances date to 1448. That said, some have argued that similar dances actually predate Christianity and derive from pagan springtime dance rituals to frighten away the spirits of winter.
In France, Christians hug and kiss as the church bells are rung. This has particular significance as the church bells are prohibited from ringing from Good Friday through Easter. The bells (which children are told “flew away” to see the Pope on Holy Thursday) return with chocolate Easter eggs.
|Pascha Candlelight Procession|
On Easter day itself, many Greeks traditionally hold an outdoor banquet to celebrate the holiday, with the main dish being some form of barbecued lamb. It is also customary to eat Christopsomon, a special bread loaf decorated with a cross and red eggs.
|Pilgrims Walk the Via Dolorosa|
in Jerusalem at Easter
The pilgrims stop at each of the nine exterior Stations of the Cross, beginning at the Lion's Gate (also called St. Stephen's Gate) and ending at Golgotha (
There are 14 Stations of the Cross altogether but the last five are all within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
|Corse Rusticane, Merano, Italy|
|Explosion of the Scoppio del Carro|
In another tradition in Tredozio in Emilia-Romagna, the town's four sections hold the annual Palio dell'Uovo or race of the eggs.
These are just three of many such local traditions in Italy.
A recipe for Paasbrood can be found at:
Russians often celebrate Paskha (Pascha) with a midnight mass. The mass begins on Saturday evening. As Pascha begins at the stroke of midnight, the church bells are rung and the priest proclaims "Christ is risen!" to which the worshipers respond, "He is truly risen!"
The hanging of swings (and the swinging on them) is a traditional Latvian Easter custom. These are
|Latvian Easter Swing|
Latvians also dye eggs as in other countries. One Latvian difference here, though, is the use of onion skins to do the dyeing. White eggs are submerged in an onion skin mixture. A short submersion produces a bright yellow egg; a long submersion produces a brown-colored egg. Traditionally, leaves and strings are attached to the eggs before submersion. When the leaves or strings are removed, patterns are left on the eggs. On Easter morning, family and friends engage in Easter egg matches. Each person knocks his or her egg against one another's eggs. The egg that remains uncracked by the end is supposed to bring the owner good luck and good health for the year.
Easter is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in Sweden, rivaling Christmas in its importance. As Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius, writing in the English-language Swedish paper The Local, explains:
The påskris which now shows up in shops and on people's houses and porches are today fairly detached from their original purpose. At one time, undecorated birch branches were used to whip each other's backs on Good Friday to take part in Jesus' suffering on the cross.
There are many customs and traditions for Easter that I have not included here. Please feel free to share your own in the comments section.
Happy Pascha! Happy Resurrection Day! Happy Easter!
Want To Read More?
Alikiviadis C. Calivas, "The Origins of Pascha and Great Week": http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8504
Easter World, "Easter Celebrations Around the World": http://www.dgreetings.com/easter/easter-world.html
Mary Fairchild, "What is Easter?" About.com, Christianity: http://christianity.about.com/od/holidaytips/qt/whatiseaster.htm
Michael San Filippo, "Buona Pasqua! Easter in Italy" : http://italian.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/aa031401a.htm
New Advent, "Easter": http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05224d.htm
Nortdstjernan.com "Happy Easter! A Swedish Easter: The symbols, the food, the traditions." http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/traditions/1167
Clip Art Sources
Opening Happy Easter clipart: http://www.clipartpal.com/clipart_pd/holiday/easter/happyeaster_10282.html
Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Maximino Cereso: http://www.servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/dibujosA/19RamosA.jpg
Palm Sunday Procession, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem: http://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/21mount-olive-processionjpg.jpg?w=450&h=300
Orthodox Red Pascha Eggs: http://friedababbley.hubpages.com/hub/Cracking-Your-Easter-Eggs-and-other-Greek-Orthodox-Easter-Traditions-and-Facts
Armenian Orthodox foot washing: http://cdn3.wn.com/pd/4a/93/cf0117ef8aa7629a564a8a4ff4ed_grande.jpg
Bermuda Kite: http://members.chello.nl/h.hagg3/Bermuda_Kite_3.htm
Easter Bunny with egg basket clip art: https://d27fcql9yjk2c0.cloudfront.net/assets/3178348/lightbox/Easter%20Bunny.jpg?1299876470
White House Easter egg hunt: http://www.army.mil/article/55725/Fort_Meade_youth_hunt_for_Easter_eggs_at_the_White_House/
Children with Easter Bunny, Howell, Michigan Nature Center: http://howellnaturecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Easter-Bunny-Breakfast.jpg
Bilbies not bunnies: http://members.optusnet.com.au/bilbies/Easter_Bilby.htm
Hot Cross Buns: http://www.womansday.com/food-recipes/traditional-easter-eats-around-the-world-117631
Pascha Candlelight Procession, Corfu, Greece: http://www.whatsup-corfu.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=682:pascha&catid=36&Itemid=22
Pilgrims Walk The Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-9ArGiz8HTkc/Ta4Z60-PBuI/AAAAAAAAAPw/dGBsA05xqxk/s1600/JerusalemViaDolorosa1-800wH.jpg
Corse Rusticane in Merano: http://altoadige.gelocal.it/cronaca/2011/04/24/news/corse-rusticane-all-ippodromo-4033076
Explosion of the Scoppio del Carro, Florence: http://www.ultimateitaly.com/festival-events/scoppio-del-carro.html
Dutch Paasbrood: http://www.countryliving.com/recipefinder/dutch-paasbrood-3043
Russian Paskha: http://www.womansday.com/food-recipes/traditional-easter-eats-around-the-world-117631
Latvian Easter Swing: http://www.mytravelkit.org/2010/04/happy-easter/
Swedish Påskkärringar: http://www.thelocal.se/3525/20110421
Swedish påskris: http://www.nordstjernan.com/news/traditions/1167
Closing Happy Easter clip art: http://www.clipartpal.com/clipart_pd/holiday/easter/happyeaster_10285.html