The greatest festival of the Christian church commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a movable feast; that is, it is not always held on the same date. In AD 325 the church council of Nicaea decided that it should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox of March 21. Easter can come as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.
Many Easter customs come from the Old World. The white lily, the symbol of the resurrection, is the special Easter flower. Rabbits and colored eggs have come from pagan antiquity as symbols of new life. Easter Monday egg rolling, a custom of European origin, has become a tradition on the lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C.
The name Easter comes from Eostre, an ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess, originally of the dawn. In pagan times an annual spring festival was held in her honor. Some Easter customs have come from this and other pre-Christian spring festivals. Others come from the Passover feast of the Jews, observed in memory of their deliverance from Egypt
The word paschal comes from a Latin word that means "belonging to Passover or to Easter." Formerly, Easter and the Passover were closely associated. The resurrection of Jesus took place during the Passover. Christians of the Eastern church initially celebrated both holidays together. But the Passover can fall on any day of the week, and Christians of the Western church preferred to celebrate Easter on Sunday--the day of the resurrection.
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Early Christians observed Easter on the same day as Passover (14-15 Nisan, a date governed by a lunar calendar). In the 2d century, the Christian celebration was transferred to the Sunday following the 14-15 Nisan, if that day fell on a weekday. Originally, the Christian Easter was a unitive celebration, but in the 4th century Good Friday became a separate commemoration of the death of Christ, and Easter was thereafter devoted exclusively to the resurrection. According to the Venerable Bede, the name Easter is derived from the pagan spring festival of the Anglo- Saxon goddess Eostre, and many folk customs associated with Easter (for example, Easter eggs) are of pagan origin.
Easter Day is currently determined as the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21. The Eastern Orthodox churches, however, follow the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar, so their celebration usually falls several weeks later than the Western Easter. Easter is preceded by the period of preparation called Lent.
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