The exact origins of the name “Easter” are unclear, but Christians throughout the world celebrate the holiday. It is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar, though it has no set date. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the spring equinox for those Christians who are in the Western part of the world. Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter a week or two after their Western counterparts. Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and reflection mirroring Christ’s forty days of temptation in the desert immediately precedes Easter.
Russian Orthodox Easter
Russian Orthodox Christians follow a strict schedule during Holy Week, the week immediately preceding Easter. The week starts with a thorough Spring-cleaning of the residence. Next, eggs are dyed and decorated on Holy Thursday. Russian Easter eggs are far more elaborate than their Western cousins. While the Czar commissioned intricate, jeweled Faberge eggs to celebrate the holiday, most Russian citizens contented themselves with creating elaborate designs on real eggs. Using wax to create a batik design, these eggs are miniature works of art. Also unique to Russian Orthodox Christians, Easter eggs are thought to have magical powers to ward off evil spirits, protecting Russian homes and crops, when they are hidden around the home.
Easter in Mexico
Easter is truly an event in Mexico. The holiday begins with the Carnival festival. The event culminates in a parade on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (the first day of the Lenten Season). The parade unites an entire city in celebration. Floats, costumes, street performances, and food are the hallmarks of Carnival. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, recognizes the suffering Christ endured. Many communities dutifully observe this week by enacting Passion Plays detailing the events of the Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal, Christ’s trial, and Jesus’ eventual crucifixion. Some communities include an actual crucifixion reenactment, with the Christ figure, or statue, hung on the cross to mark Good Friday. Pascua, the week beginning with Easter Sunday, celebrates Christ’s resurrection and the end of Lenten sacrifices.
Easter in Italy
Easter in Italy is more of a formal and serious occasion. The country consists mostly of Roman Catholics. The pope and religion still play a prominent role in the everyday lives of most Italians. Highly organized processions take place on the Thursday and Friday before Easter Sunday. Icons or statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus are carried in the procession. On Easter Sunday, the pope presides over the holy mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the world pack both the Basilica and St. Peter’s Square to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. In many households, ceremonial dishes and baked goods are prepared. One such specialty is Easter bread. It is a mildly sweet bread shaped in the form of a knotted cross. A fully cooked egg, still in the shell, is placed into the bread, near where the head of Jesus was located at the time of his crucifixion. Once baked, the bread is taken to the church to be blessed. It is not eaten until Easter Sunday.
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