Easter Ceremonies Around the World
For many Christian communities around the world, Easter is the most important religious ceremony of the year. Like other ceremonies, however, Easter is not just a religious occasion as its origin is mixed up and combined with even older ceremonies. In the case of Easter, this means ceremonies associated with the arrival of Spring and its association with the renewal of life, both of plant and animal life and human life as well.
In addition to these two concurrent themes, the more modern way in which Easter is celebrated is as one additional long period of public holidays. The nonreligious look forward to Easter not because they are thinking about the significance of the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but because they want some time off work with their family, and perhaps enjoy some better weather (i.e. if they live in the northern hemisphere). School holidays in many countries often take into account the days of the Easter weekend, although because these are not the same each year, a typical two-week school holiday may or may not include Easter.
Why Easter is yet another Northern hemisphere ceremony
The two most important religious days associated with Easter are Good Friday, the day on which Jesus is said to have been crucified by the Romans and died on a cross, and Easter Sunday. The latter is the day on which it was discovered that Jesus’ body had disappeared from the tomb he had been buried in and so Christians believed that he had returned to heaven – the resurrection. Other important religious days for the more devout include Palm Sunday, the day on which Jesus is said to have arrived in Jerusalem, and Maundy Thursday, the day on which he had the Last Supper with his disciples. Because all of this happened in the Middle East which is in the northern hemisphere, the timing of each Easter is determined by the first full moon of the northern Spring. This could be sometime in March or April.
Because of the timing of the religious days of Easter, the more pagan association with the renewal of life in the northern hemisphere in Spring makes the two ceremonies arrive each year at the same time. This wouldn’t have happened in the southern hemisphere because Easter is the start of Autumn, not Spring!
The typical activities at Easter reflect the fact that the ceremonies have spread beyond their original point of origin. To give an example, in Australia and other southern hemisphere communities where there are many Christians, Easter is celebrated by public holidays, church attendance, and the giving of chocolate eggs to children. Hot cross buns appear on supermarket shelves well before Good Friday and images of the Easter bunny or the Easter bilby appear all over the place. Meanwhile, many people just take the time off and have a barbecue, go to the beach, or play sport.
The eggs and bunnies at Easter are a remnant of pagan ideas of the renewal of life in Spring. Easter bilbies (a cute-looking endangered marsupial) in Australia are often recommended as a substitute for rabbits because bunnies are actually a pest in the rural parts of the country. Hot cross buns are supposed to symbolize the cross on which Jesus was crucified, which also explains why they are supposed to be eaten on Good Friday!