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Easter beginnings and observances today

March 29, 2013

As the world’s 2 billion Christians prepare to celebrate Easter, it is worth considering the origins of such a widespread celebration, as well as how its observance is making headlines today. The widely accepted origins of Easter can be traced to many pagan traditional celebrations of spring. The name “Easter” is attributed to various goddesses of spring or rebirth, and Easter’s date of observance each year is calculated based on lunar cycles (it corresponds with the Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon). It also falls in the month after the spring equinox, celebrated in several early religions as the beginning of the new year. The symbols popular in Easter celebrations today derive from traditional symbols of birth and renewal. The Easter Bunny is preceded by the rabbit, chosen for its reputation of rapid reproduction. Easter eggs harken back to traditions of several ancient cultures like the Egyptians, Persians, and Hindus whose origin myths feature an egg as the beginning of the world.

Of course, these traditions and symbols are now reinscribed with significance in the Christian tradition, and the holiday has become a celebration of the resurrection of Christ and thus central to the Christian faith. The ancient symbols have also been inscribed with new meaning: the egg represents Christ’s sealed tomb in which he lay for three days before reappearing to his disciples, and the rabbit delivers these eggs to children. The candy and commercialization probably have more to do with capitalism than Christianity.

Beyond the origins of this holiday, it is worth considering how observance of Easter demonstrates the state of affairs in Europe today. In a continuation of his untraditional approach to the papacy, newly-elected Pope Francis I washed the feet of 12 prisoners in a juvenile detention center on Thursday as the Christian tradition believes Christ did with his disciples before his crucifixion. Pope Francis I has emphasized his desire for a “church that is poor and is for the poor.”

In largely Christian European countries, Easter celebrations have felt the impact of the on-going debt crisis. In Spain, where over 70% of the population identifies itself as Catholic, several Catholic organizations have expressed concern over being seen as too ostentatious in the face of soaring unemployment and austerity measures enacted with the acceptance of a European Union bailout. The Catholic Church in Spain has come under scrutiny for its special economic position within the state (being exempt from property taxes, for example), though the financial officer of the Church, Fernando Giménez Barriocanal, has stated that the Church has given €2.35 to the poor for every euro received from the state.

As Easter celebrations get underway across the world, the context of this holiday and its observance offers an interesting glimpse into Christianity’s influence today.

eostreII-214x300               vienna-easter-1                    Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio washes feet of shelter residents during 2008 Mass at church in Buenos Aires 

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