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Easter and its importance

Ein Bokeh blühender Narzissen.
Daffodils as a symbol of awakening nature at Easter.  © dpa - Bildfunk

Easter is undoubtedly one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar, for it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and therefore the notion of his death being overcome. In Christian teachings, the word Easter is derived from East. The women who were initially standing at Jesus' empty grave were said to have been facing east towards the sunrise, because they believed that was where Jesus Christ would be returning to earth from.

Another explanation for the word »Easter« derives from the Old High German word »Ostara« (East), »Eostre« or »Eoastrae«, the Anglo-Saxon name of the Teutonic goddess of the dawn, spring and fertility. The verdant earth and love/dawn were celebrated here, though neither of the explanations has been universally accepted.

Holy Week is the week directly before Easter, where people remember the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It traditionally begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter Saturday.

Palm Sunday is the sixth and final Sunday of Lent, and the last Sunday before Easter, when Jesus Christ is believed to have ceremoniously entered Jerusalem. The people paid homage to him as the Messiah by calling »Hosanna to the son of David!«, scattering palm branches (the symbol of holiness, independence and victory) along the road. This is why ceremonious processions are held on Palm Sunday, and palm branches (generally replaced with boxwood branches in this part of the world) blessed. Jesus Christ's cross is carried into the church, and after the service, the faithful take the branches home with them and place them behind the crosses in their own houses. Palm Sunday often also coincides with Confirmation Sunday in Germany's Evangelical state churches.

Maundy Thursday marks the start of the Paschal Triduum, the three days of remembrance for the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Maundy Thursday commemorates the day of Jesus' last supper with his closest confidants, the twelve apostles, the evening before his crucifixion. During their evening meal on Maundy Thursday, members of the parish traditionally have their feet washed by the priest. This foot-washing is an expression of the love exemplified by Jesus Christ.

When Jesus Christ departs, the bells and organs fall silent until Easter eve. Floral decorations and candles are removed from the altar at the end of the mass. While masses continue to be held, the people are, in many regions, called to prayer by wooden rattles and clackers rather than bells.

Drei Kreuze vor dem Farbenspiel des Himmels.
The crucifixion group as a symbol of the life, suffering and death of Jesus Christ.  © maryd / Fotolia

In some parts of Upper Lusatia, Maundy Thursday is a day when people go begging, with children going from house to house asking for sweets by saying »Good morning, good morning this Maundy Thursday, please put something in my beggar's sack...«.

While Christian beliefs consider Good Friday and Easter Saturday to be part of the Easter festivities, Easter doesn't officially start until the night service on Easter Saturday.

The German term for Good Friday (»Karfreitag«) comes from the Old High German »kara«, meaning »lamentation«, because this is the day Christians remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. The Passion of Christ on Good Friday has 14 stages, from the death sentence, to the carrying of the cross to the Calvary outside Jerusalem, to the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ.

For many Christians, Good Friday is the holiest and also the saddest holiday on their calendar. The community gathers for a service with the reading of the Passion from the Gospel of John, veneration of the cross, and Communion.

For Catholic Christians, Good Friday continues to be a strict day of fasting. Meat is generally not eaten, with fish usually being the substitute. Fish is considered one of the oldest symbols identified with during the time of their persecution. The word »fish« in Greek is »ichthys«, comprising the initial letters of »Iesos Christos Theou Yios Soter«, which translates as »Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour«.

Dance or sporting events are also prohibited on Good Friday. Theatres must similarly factor Good Friday into their programmes, as no pure comedies are allowed.

Easter Saturday is the first day after Jesus Christ's death, and the day he is laid to rest. It is said that guards were set up by Jesus' grave on this day to protect His body from being stolen. This was the only way the news of Christ's resurrection could be spread across the land, sparking hope for a better life.

It is not until Easter Sunday eve that Christians come together to celebrate the resurrection, along with the sanctification of the Easter water, Easter fire and Easter candles. The bells, which had fallen silent after the last supper service on Maundy Thursday, return in full voice during the holy Easter eve on Easter Saturday.

Easter officially starts with the gathering of the faithful on Easter eve, during which they await the resurrected Jesus Christ who is to come and save them.

The Easter eve celebrations are split into four parts: The Service of Light, the Liturgy of the Word, initiation & renewal of baptismal vows, and the Eucharist. The Service of Light involves carrying a burning candle into the darkness of the church. This candle symbolises Christ, who brought light to life through his resurrection. The Liturgy of the Word sees the reading of at least five passages from the Bible, including a story of the Resurrection. The initiations and renewals of baptismal vows involves initiating children into the church community and committing them to live by Christian rules. The Eucharist, also known as the Breaking of Bread or Communion, serves to give thanks for the salvation by Jesus Christ, and to celebrate new life. After this service, the bells which had fallen silent on the night of Maundy Thursday begin to chime once more.

Ein Laib Brot und ein Glas Wein stehen auf einem Tisch.
Easter traditionally marks the end of Lent.  © Magdalena Kucova / Fotolia

Easter Sunday also marks the end of Lent and the start of Eastertide, which runs for fifty days up to and including Pentecost Sunday. It celebrates Christ's resurrection from the dead, and also brings the Paschal Triduum, the three holy days, to an end.

Easter Monday is usually the day of the first outings into nature, formerly also forest chapels or neighbouring churches. This dates back to the walk taken by two of Christ's disciples from Jerusalem to Emmaus, where they are met by the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth. The walk of Emmaus usually starts outside the parish church and ends at a chapel.

Easter officially ends with the heralding of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

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