Easter around the world

28/03/2013 | Rebecca Twose

It’s Easter this weekend, so to celebrate the arrival of the Easter Bunny, Language Insight is taking a look at some of the ways countries across the world mark the event. However, first let’s explore the history of this Christian holiday.

History

Easter is the most important of the Christian holidays as it honours the death and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, there are numerous important days marked by the church that are all linked with this event.

The first is Shrove Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, when Christians use up the last of their rich foods by making pancakes ahead of fasting for Lent. This period lasts for 40 days, during which followers give up luxurious foods, belongings or hobbies as an act of penance.

Palm Sunday is the last Sunday before Easter. It celebrates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey when the believers in the crowds that had gathered to witness the spectacle placed palm leaves on the ground in front of the animal. As a result, many churches hand out crosses made from strips of twisted palm to their congregations on this day.

There are many theories as to where the term ‘Easter’ originated from, with one being that it evolved from the Anglo-Saxon celebration of the Month of Opening, or Eostremonath. This was the name given to April as the month represented new life and beginnings following winter.

Another possibility is that the word Easter evolved from the name of the pagan goddess Ä’ostre, who was described by the scholar Bede in his 8th century book on English history, ‘De temporum ratione’. Before ‘Easter’ was used as the name of the holiday, it was called Pascha, which comes from the Hebrew festival Passover. In most non-English speaking countries, Easter is still known as Pascha today.

Good Friday

Good Friday marks the beginning of the religious holiday and commemorates the day Jesus was crucified. There are numerous theories as to where the name came from, with some believing it evolved from ‘God Friday’, and others thinking it is so-named because Jesus gave up his life for the ‘good’ of humanity.

The morning after Jesus was arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane, he was brought before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. Pilate found Jesus innocent, but the crowd called for his execution in place of the condemned murderer Barabbas and Pilate allowed this in order to stop a riot breaking out.

Good Friday is an extremely sombre day when Christians remember the sacrifice Jesus made. In many countries, worshippers hold parades through the streets, reenacting Jesus’ walk with the cross through Jerusalem to Golgotha. In the Philippines, several people volunteer to be nailed to crosses, although church leaders publicly discourage this. Penitents are also known to wear crowns of thorns or flagellate themselves during re-enactments.

An English Good Friday tradition is to eat hot cross buns. These buns are defined by their sweet and spicy taste, which usually includes currants, and they are marked with a white pastry cross.

Easter Sunday

Holy Saturday follows Good Friday and marks the day when Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb. It is another day for quiet reflection in Christianity, and churches often remove all flowers and cover the altar with a black sheet.

In contrast, Easter Sunday is a time of celebration as it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. For Christians around the world, this is the most important day in their calendar – even beating Christmas.

While in the UK the custom is to tuck into chocolate eggs delivered by the Easter Bunny, elsewhere eggs are used to decorate the home. In Germany eggs are hung on arrangements of branches to create trees, while in the Ukraine beautiful hand-painted eggs are given away.

These are known as pysanka and they are dyed using the wax resist technique and then decorated with traditional folk designs created with beeswax. The eggs are raw, but boiled versions called krashanky that have been coloured with vegetable dye can be eaten to celebrate Easter.

Egg hunts are another popular tradition. Chocolate eggs are hidden around the home and garden and participants have to search for as many as they can. An alternative treasure hunt is to answer questions to get to different places in the home before finally uncovering where the eggs are hidden.

Other customs include egg rolling, where painted hard boiled eggs are rolled down hills. One of the most famous egg rolling contests in the UK is held around the corner from Language Insight’s headquarters, at Avenham Park in Preston. Egg tapping is yet another tradition, where one participant taps their hardboiled egg against that of another competitor. The aim is to crack the shell of your rival’s egg, without breaking your own.

A particularly unusual Easter tradition is observed in Norway. After a morning on the slopes, many Norwegians return home to get cosy reading a murder mystery novel, or watching a detective drama on TV. Often, a series is shown every evening over the course of the holiday, with the case being solved on Easter Monday.

Whether you plan to spend this Easter rolling eggs down a hill or watching an episode of Columbo, we hope you enjoy the break. And remember, if you need any translation or transcription work covered while you’re off, Language Insight is happy to help.

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