Easter is observed by the Western Christian churches on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. Easter is a movable feast and can occur as early as March 22nd or as late as April 25th. This year the Sun was at the first point of Aries already at quarter past 8 pm on March 20th. So the Roman Catholic and Protestant Easter falls on the 31st of March. Eastern rite churches calculate Easter according the Julian calendar and so the Western and Orthodox Easters can be up to five weeks apart - as is the case in 2002. So Greeks, Russians or Serbs will celebrate Easter on the 5th of May this year.
Easter time is devoted to spring festivals. In Christian countries Easter is celebrated as the religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the celebrations of Easter have many customs and legends that are of pre-historic origin. The Christian celebration of Easter embodies a number of converging traditions with emphasis on the relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover. Passover is an important feast in the Jewish calendar. It is celebrated for eight days and commemorates the exodus of Jewish slaves from Egypt during the reign of the Pharaoh Ramses II. This year, Passover starts on March 28th and lasts until April 4th. So Jews, Catholics and Protestants in the Czech Republic are celebrating their spring holidays at the same time. But even for non-believers in the country Easter time is a celebration of spring, rebirth and new life.
One symbol is central to both Jewish and Christian celebration: the lamb. Prior to their departure from Egypt Jewish slaves had to slay a lamb and paint the doorposts with its blood in order that the angel of death would pass over their households and not kill the first-born sons. Jews were then to eat the lamb, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. The lamb is also the symbol of Christian Easter. Christians view Jesus Christ as "The Lamb of God" because he was sent as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. As I said, last Wednesday, the Sun was at the first point of Aries. In astrology, Aries is portrayed by as a ram and the word itself means "ram" or "lamb" in Latin. Even for people of other creeds or for non-believers the lamb can symbolise new life and rebirth after winter.
Whatever our faith is, we can find ideas behind our holidays that we share with the rest of the humankind and joys we have in common. Celebration of spring and new life is certainly one of them.
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