You say "Easter." I say "Esther."
On Ash Wednesday of this year, I was sitting in a bar having a martini at Varjak. The bartender there is this wonderful Irish woman, Caroline. She remarked to me how early Easter is this year. Certainly, all around the city, I had been encountering people on the street with the tell-tale smudge of soot on their foreheads. Turning my coat into the cold winter blasts at every corner, I also thought, "Could it be already?"
Since then, I seem to have been a part of more conversations about Easter than any year I can remember. There is a lot of confusion to the Protestant public about the whole Lenten season and because I was raised Catholic, I am often expected to know the answers to their inane questions. Specifically, "What's so Good about Good Friday?" My response has been, "I'd really rather not discuss it."
Ask any lapsed Catholic and they will tell you, we try to block all that minutiae out of our brains as soon as the Confirmation outfits come off. The moment I step into a church, though, it all comes back. I remember when to kneel and when to stand, every word of the Nicene Creed, the way the dry Communion wafer sticks to your tongue and melts into a tiny wad of paste in your mouth.
I may not agree with the politics of the maligned Catholic institution, but there was a time when I was wholly devout. There was a certain comfort to the ritual of it all. It gave me a sense of what it means to honor a tradition, to be a part of something vast.
After I read Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (one of my top 10 all-time favorite books), I had a wonderful realization. After spending most of my early adulthood forgetting about the tenets of the church, I remembered what makes religion interesting: the stories. The story of Jesus is indeed an interesting tale. You can choose to believe what you want about him. But, if you remember that he was just a man who was also once a boy and a teenager, it makes it easier to see why so many people want so desperately to believe.
And, for those of you who simply must know, here you are:
In Christian countries Easter is celebrated as the religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. But the celebrations of Easter have many customs and legends that are pagan in origin and have nothing to do with Christianity. Scholars, accepting the derivation proposed by the 8th-century English scholar St. Bede, believe the name Easter is thought to come from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre," both Goddesses of mythology signifying spring and fertility whose festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox.
The Christian celebration of Easter embodies a number of converging traditions with emphasis on the relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach, from which is derived Pasch, another name used by Europeans for Easter. Passover is an important feast in the Jewish calendar which is celebrated for 8 days and commemorates the flight and freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt
The early Christians, many of whom were of Jewish origin, were brought up in the Hebrew tradition and regarded Easter as a new feature of the Passover festival, a commemoration of the advent of the Messiah as foretold by the prophets.
Easter is observed by the churches of the West on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox (March 2I). So Easter became a "movable" feast which can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25
Christian churches in the East which were closer to the birthplace of the new religion and in which old traditions were strong, observe Easter according to the date of the Passover festival.
Easter is at the end of the Lenten season, which covers a forty-six-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. The Lenten season itself comprises forty days, as the six Sundays in Lent are not actually a part of Lent. Sundays are considered a commemoration of Easter Sunday and have always been excluded from the Lenten fast. The Lenten season is a period of penitence in preparation for the highest festival of the church year, Easter.
Holy Week, the last week of Lent, begins its with the observance of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday takes its name from Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the crowds laid palms at his feet. Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, which was held the evening before the Crucifixion. Friday in Holy Week is the anniversary of the Crufixion, the day that Christ was crucified and died on the cross.
Holy week and the Lenten season end with Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection of Jesus Christ.