What is Easter?Easter is a religious holiday in which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, whose death was commemorated on Good Friday. When Jesus rose from the dead, according to the Bible, He conquered death and thus paved the way to salvation for Christians everywhere. You can read the story for yourself in the Gospels (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21).
Easter marks the end of Lent.
Is it a really big deal?Oh, yeah. If you're Christian this is the holiday that's more important than Christmas (if you have to rank them), because Easter is what your faith is based on. The crux of Christianity is what Christians call "The Mystery of Faith" which is "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again."
How should we celebrate it?Christians head to church on Easter Sunday to celebrate. Many churches have services at sunrise, because it was at dawn that Jesus's tomb was discovered to be empty (Matthew 28:1). Sunrise services are traditionally held outside.
Easter services are a jubilant time and most services employ special victory songs, including the classic "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today."
Easter is a feast day, so should also, traditionally, be accompanied by a large meal - ideally one featuring foods you could not partake in while fasting.
Do non-Christians celebrate Easter?Yep. The holiday has gradually become secularized, so for many it's the equivalent of a celebration of spring and good weather. Also, who would pass up a chance to eat candy?
What are some Easter traditions?Well, there are a lot. People decorate eggs. They make Easter baskets filled with sweets and eggs. They conduct egg hunts and egg rolls. Some people even make cascarones, or confetti eggs.
Why Easter eggs?Eggs are a symbol of fertility, renewal and new life, so it's fitting that they are used to celebrate Jesus's conquering of death and the subsequent new life Christians have through him.
There's also some religious symbolism there. Some Christians view the egg as a Christian symbol, because just as a bird hatches from the egg leaving behind a shell so Jesus left the empty tomb.
During Lent, many Christians fast. Historically this meant not consuming eggs, so it is also believed, according to the History Channel, that eggs are present so much in Easter because those participating in Lent were super psyched to be able to eat eggs again.
According to the History Channel, decorating eggs for Easter has been going on since the 13th century, when early Christians stained eggs red in honor of Christ's blood. It all really picked up steam in the 19th century when Czar Alexander III commissioned Peter Carl Faberge to make jewel encrusted eggs as a gift for his wife.
However, it should be noted that eggs as gifts isn't a Christian thing. Engraved ostrich eggs have been discovered in Africa that are more than 60,000 years old - which predates Christianity by quite a lot.
What about the Easter Bunny?Like eggs, rabbits are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life. The association with rabbits and Easter happened in Protestant Europe. Many of the Germans who eventually settled in Pennsylvania had a tradition of the "Osterhase," an egg-laying hare, Cadbury style.
However, it should be noted that the Easter Bunny isn't the Easter ambassador. Around the world Easter animals include the cuckoo, fox, chick, rooster and stork.
Why candy?Why not? This abundance of sweets could be linked to the end of the fasting season of Lent. Seeing as many people give up desserts during this time, it only makes sense for them to geek out about chocolate and sugar when Easter hits. Jellybeans became popular in the 1930s, because merchants said they looked like eggs - which is what we call clever advertising.
The festival of Passover, or Pesach, will begin on Friday as Jewish communities worldwide commemorate the liberation of the Israelites from slavery, in one of the important festivities in the Jewish calendar.
According to the Book of Exodus in the Torah, Moses called for the Pharaoh to free the Israelites, warning that if he failed to do so, Egypt would be struck by terrible plagues – the last one of which would be the death of every Egyptian first-born male.
The Pharaoh refused to do so, despite the onslaught of plagues of frogs, flies, the death of livestock and total darkness. To avoid the killing of all Egyptian first-born males, Moses urged Jews to mark their doors with lamb's blood to spare the men – after which the Pharaoh relented, allowing the Israelites to flee Egypt. The word "pesach" comes from the Hebrew root Pei-Samekh-Cheit, meaning to pass over or to spare.
When is Passover Celebrated?Passover begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which typically falls in March or April of the Gregorian calendar. This year, Passover will start at the sunset of Friday 3 April and end on the evening of Saturday 11 April.
How is the festival celebrated?Passover is divided into two celebrations. On the first two days and the last two days, Jewish people light holiday candles at night and prepare special meals, abstaining from working, driving, writing or using electrical items. During the middle four days, known as chol hamoed, semi-festive "intermediate days", most forms of work are permitted.
What foods are eaten during Passover?An unleavened bread called matzah is traditionally eaten in commemoration of the Jews fleeing Egypt, as they are said to have escaped in such a rush that their bread did not have time to rise.
During the festival, Jewish communities try not to consume any "chametz" – meaning food or drink that contains leavened grain. This includes bread, sweets, cereal, pasta and most alcoholic beverages. Water to be used in matzah baking must be left to stand overnight to ensure that it is allowed to cool. This water is then referred to as mayim shelanu, meaning water which has "slept".
What is the Seder?It is traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night of Passover – the first two nights in communities outside of Israel – for a dinner called a seder, derived from the word for "order" in Hebrew.
During the meal, the story of the exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah and four cups of wine are drunk at various stages during the narrative. An extra cup is left for the prophet Elijah, who is believed to reappear and announce the coming of the Messiah.
On the table, there are three unleavened breads on top of each other. At the start of the Seder, the middle matzah is broken and the largest piece is hidden for the children to find – whoever finds it receives a small prize.
What role do children play during the Passover Seder?Children have an important role in the meal as traditionally, the youngest child is prompted to ask questions about the Seder. The questions, aimed at discussing the significance of the symbols in the meal, are: