The Customs of Easter

Easter Day

On the very first Easter morning, before daybreak, Roman guards were standing watch in front of the tomb where the body of Jesus Christ lay. They were placed there because Israelite priests wanted to make sure nobody would steal Jesus’ body. Suddenly an earthquake shook the ground on which the soldiers stood rolling the stone away from the mouth of the tomb. A bright, blinding light shone forth out of the tomb. Terrified, the guards fell to the ground stunned. When they gathered their wits they fled. Shortly thereafter three women arrived at the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus. Instead of seeing the body of Jesus they saw a young man, an angel, dressed in shining white robes. “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here,” he said. (Matthew 27:62-28:7, Mark 16:1-7)

For many Easter morning begins in church. Those who are able, especially if the weather is warm enough, attend Sunrise services. These services, which started in Saxony in 1732, start in the darkness of early morning so the congregation may observe the rising of the sun during the service. Music, prayers, and a message praising God for the resurrection of Christ make up the service. Many Sunrise services also include a breakfast served to those who attend. A number of people who do not attend or do not have the opportunity to attend Sunrise services still attend the church of their choice on Easter day. Easter and Christmas are two times when the most people attend church services.

One thing that is commonly seen at these services and wherever one goes on Easter day is new outfits. Even before Christianity people put on new clothes for their spring festival. Wearing new clothes was symbolic of the newness of springtime and the new growth coming after the dead of winter. If one could not afford or make a new outfit then they would get a new hat or gloves. Wearing only old clothes was thought to bring bad luck to the wearer. At one time these new outfits were displayed for all to see in Easter parades. Prizes and having ones name mentioned in the newspapers awaited those with the best outfits.

A traditional Easter dinner includes one or more of these items: roast lamb with mint sauce, veal, custard tarts sprinkled with currants, Easter cakes (flat, round, rather thick biscuits), and puddings that have a bitter flavor commemorating the herbs eaten at Passover. In Poland cold roast pork, ham, sausages, various salads, cakes, sweetmeats, and colored Easter eggs are added to the feast. They also decorate the table with green leaves and a lamb made of sugar.

Other traditions associated with Easter day are giving and/or hunting of Easter eggs, dyed or chocolate, giving of small gifts (this trend started within the last 100 years), sending Easter cards, visiting and being visited by the Easter bunny, and giving the house an extensive spring cleaning before Easter. In Sweden, children disguise themselves and go about with a special Easter greeting called a Pask Brev. As the greeting is delivered the children let off fireworks.

An Easter greeting that is traditional in Poland, Russia, and parts of Eastern Europe is, “Christ is risen!” To which “He is risen indeed” is given in reply. This greeting is becoming traditional in parts of the United States and other areas of the world as well.