What Does Easter Mean to You?
IT IS 8:30 in the evening. In the gloom of a 300-year-old church in northern Africa, some 20 deacons in white robes are chanting and beating their drums. The fragrance of frankincense diffuses from the censers. Now a group of priests joins the ceremony, reading the Bible in Geez, an ancient liturgical language. Worshipers listen. Only a few of those present understand the words. The ritual continues until three in the morning.
In Vatican City the pope holds a special Mass. His audience for this extraordinary meeting consists of the full Vatican diplomatic body, together with hundreds of cardinals, prelates, priests, and nuns and thousands of pilgrims.
Across the Atlantic, in New York City, the police have set up barriers to prevent vehicles from entering glamorous Fifth Avenue. A procession of elegantly dressed New Yorkers—men in top hats and tails and women wearing flamboyant bonnets—promenade down the avenue in colorful exuberance.
What is the occasion? The celebration of Easter. All over the world, there are people who hold this religious observance in high esteem. Some have called it the queen of festivals and festum festorum—Latin for “feast of feasts.”
How Important Is It to You?
What do you think about Easter? Do you know why it is celebrated? Many do not. A survey conducted in Britain revealed that 1 out of every 3 Britons does not know the reason for Easter. Yet, in Britain, as well as in most other countries in the world, Easter remains the most important religious celebration of Christendom.
According to The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Easter is the “principal festival of the Christian Church Year, celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his Crucifixion.” The book Easter—Its Story and Meaning explains that Easter is the “greatest feast of the Christian Year, celebrated with the utmost joy, because it promises a like resurrection to all who have accepted the Faith of Christ.” Do you take the celebration of Easter that seriously? Do you really believe that Easter has something to do with your prospects for life in the future?
Many do not view Easter with such reverence. Commenting on the commercialization of Easter, one newspaper called it “The Greatest Story Ever Sold.” It added: “Easter, the most important Christian holiday, has become the second-biggest holiday for gift giving, toymakers say.” The biggest, of course, is Christmas, and some church officials feel that the secularization of Easter has followed the pattern of the secularization of Christmas.
For the 1989 Easter season, for example, candymakers in the United States geared up for projected sales of $815 million. It is the second largest candy season in the United States after Christmas. One company produces more than a hundred types of Easter rabbits.
According to The Detroit News, Jack Santino, professor of folklore and popular culture at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, admitted that the secularization of Easter ‘is “typical” of today’s consumer-oriented society.’ The newspaper added that the Easter “bunny—not the resurrection—has become the focus of Easter.”
Just Another Holiday
In the Northern Hemisphere, Easter heralds the beginning of spring and is generally accompanied by a week’s vacation from schools and colleges. So where possible, many young people flock to warm-weather resorts for wild beach-parties. Others view the Easter season simply as the end of the ski season—their last chance to enjoy the slopes.
In Norway, where almost 88 percent of the population belongs to the Lutheran Evangelical state church, only about 14 percent of those surveyed in a recent study said that they would consider going to church on Easter. About 75 percent admitted that they no longer view Easter as a religious holiday. They said they would rather go skiing.
For many, some of the important emblems of Easter have become symbols of fun and games. The egg, for example, is probably the most popular symbol of Easter in many countries. The symbolism of the egg is very religious. Supposedly, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is represented by the new life that emerges from a seemingly lifeless egg. Hence, the custom of decorating eggs with attractive colors and designs is an important feature of the Easter celebration.
But for some, the main value of the Easter egg is to entertain children. In one town the traditional Easter egg hunt at the local church ends up in an egg fight! “For children,” notes Robert J. Myers in his book Celebrations, “Easter means fun, surprises, and probably enough candy and sweets to last until Halloween!”
In theory, Easter continues to hold the highest position among Christendom’s religious holidays. In practice, however, it seems that more and more people regard it as of little significance, as just another holiday. What about you? What does Easter mean to you? Before you answer this question, however, should you not first ask: ‘What does Easter mean to God? Is the celebration pleasing to him? Are Christians really required to celebrate Easter?’
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Emblems of Easter have become symbols of fun and games