Holy Week is the final week of Lent. Some churches hold special services every day of the week. Holy Week recalls the events leading to Jesus's death and Resurrection.
Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week. It is the Sunday before Easter, and the beginning of the Christian Holy Week. It celebrates the story of Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. During Palm Sunday services, many churches distribute cut palm leaves. Greek Orthodox Christians receive branches of fragrant bay leaves, and later used in cooking during the year.
Palm Sunday marks a turn in Christian churches' observance of Lent from a time of discipline and sorrow for one's sins to a time of looking ahead to the Passion (suffering and death) of Jesus and His Resurrection. Christians, in Jerusalem, by the late 300's, were celebrating Palm Sunday on the first day of the week. They did this at holy sites, to remember the events that led up to the crucifixion of Christ
Maundy Thursday, also called Holy Thursday, recalls Jesus's last meal and His arrest and imprisonment. Many Protestant churches hold Communion services on this day.
Good Friday observes the death of Jesus on the cross. Most churches hold mourning services. Some services last from noon until 3 p.m. to symbolize the last three hours of darkness while Jesus suffered on the cross.
Holy Saturday is chiefly a day of solemn vigil (watch). The major activity of the day comes at nightfall as observance of the Resurrection approaches. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches hold vigil services that often include the baptism of new members.
Easter Sunday celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches hold Saturday evening services. Most Protestant churches hold Sunday morning Easter services. Easter sunrise services are also very popular in America. At that time, the light of the rising sun recalls the light that comes back to the world with the newly risen Jesus. For many Christians, Easter Sunday is set aside for feasting and celebration.
During the 40-day period beginning with Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate the time when Jesus reappeared to some of His followers. This period ends on Ascension Day, or Ascension Thursday. On this day, the story of Jesus' rise to heaven is read in churches. In Catholic churches, the Easter paschal candle is put out on Ascension Day. The Easter season concludes 10 days later with the feast of Pentecost, when the apostles reported that the Holy Spirit had entered into them. Christians believe that the church began at that time.
There are many symbols used during the Easter week that remind Christians of the original Easter events and their meaning. Most of these symbols are used only during the Easter season. The rest are part of Christian life and worship throughout the year.
The crucifix and the cross are present in churches and many homes throughout the year. A crucifix is a cross with an image of Jesus' body hanging from it. It symbolizes the sacrifice Jesus made by allowing Himself to be killed. An empty cross--that is, without the figure of Christ crucified--reminds Christians of Jesus' victory over death and the new life and hope this victory brings to believers.
Candles are burned during many Easter celebrations, especially the vigil and midnight services before Easter Sunday. Christians associate Jesus with the light from candles, calling Him "the Light of the World." Many churches extinguish candles on their altars on Good Friday to show that Jesus' light has gone out. In Roman Catholic churches, the special paschal candle is lit on Easter Sunday next to the main altar. The candle represents Jesus' return to life. The candle is often lit during the next 40 days, until it is put out on Ascension Day.
Easter lilies are used to decorate churches and homes. The large, pure white blossoms remind Christians of the pure new life that comes to them through the Resurrection of Jesus.
The lamb is a particularly important Easter symbol in central and eastern European countries. It represents Jesus and relates His death to that of the lamb sacrificed on the first Passover. Christians traditionally refer to Jesus as "the Lamb of God."
Other foods. Besides lamb and eggs, certain other foods are associated with the Easter season. Pretzels, for example, were originally a Lenten food. Their twisted shape suggested arms crossed in prayer. Hot cross buns, now eaten throughout the Easter season, were first baked in England to be served on Good Friday. The buns have a cross made of icing on the top.
A number of popular customs are observed during the Easter season. Some are followed by most Christians. Others are observed in a particular area or by a particular group.
Carnivals provide opportunities for feasting and merrymaking before the solemn fast days of Lent. The word carnival comes from the Latin word carnelevarium, which means removal of meat. The most famous carnival is the Mardi Gras, celebrated on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. Mardi Gras is a French term that means Fat Tuesday. It refers to the fat ox that traditionally led a procession on Shrove Tuesday in France. Carnivals often feature parades in which people wear elaborate costumes. The best-known Mardi Gras parade in North America takes place in New Orleans.
Exchanging and eating Easter eggs is a popular custom in many countries. In most cases, chicken eggs are used. The eggs are hard-boiled and dyed in various colors and patterns. Many countries have their own traditional patterns. Probably the most famous Easter eggs are those designed in Ukraine and Poland, where Christians decorate the eggs with complicated red, black, and white patterns.
In many countries, children hunt for Easter eggs hidden about the home. Children in the United Kingdom, Germany, and some other countries play a game in which eggs are rolled against one another or down a hill. The egg that stays uncracked the longest wins. Since 1878, children in Washington, D.C., have been invited to roll eggs on the White House lawn.
Eggs and rabbits are the only familiar symbols unrelated to the Easter story. Eggs, which represent new life, have been a symbol of spring since ancient times. Christians adopted the egg as an Easter symbol because of the relationship between Easter and the renewal of life. Rabbits are associated with the fertility of spring because of their ability to produce many young. Some parents tell their children that the Easter Rabbit, or Easter Bunny, brings Easter eggs.
Passion Plays dramatize the Easter story. Such plays have been performed during the Easter season since the Middle Ages. The most famous one is usually presented every 10 years in Oberammergau, in southern Germany. It dates from 1634. In the United States, Passion Plays are performed annually in several cities.
Its a custom common among many Christians to wear new clothes on Easter Sunday. Like many other Easter symbols, the new clothes represent the new life offered through the death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Easter promenades of people in new clothes are a tradition in many European towns and villages. Some of these promenades are led by a person holding a cross or an Easter candle. In New York City, thousands of people stroll in the Easter Parade down Fifth Avenue to show off their new clothes following Easter services.
Many communities follow customs of the Easter season that are special to them. In Bethlehem, Pa., for example, a trombone choir of the Moravian Church plays hymns throughout the city before dawn on Easter Sunday to call church members to a sunrise service in the old Moravian cemetery. At the cemetery, the trombones play a joyful chorus as the sun appears on the horizon.
From the Easton's Dictionary:
Because of the resurrection of Christ, many call Easter Sunday Resurrection Sunday
**Excerpts of information taken from World Book Millennium 2000 Encyclopedia**
Music playing "The Lord Liveth"
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