The Easter holiday spans over four days: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. Everyone knows the origins of Easter, that it was when Jesus resurrected from the dead. However, do you know the full story of what happened? In this article, I will explain the origins of each day and elaborate on how they are celebrated globally.
Do note that the events that followed are according to religious stories and what has been written in the Bible.
On the run-up to Easter, there is Palm Sunday. This is when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people there welcomed him by waving palm leaves. At this moment, Jesus supposedly knew he was going to die for the sins of mankind. The week after Palm Sunday is called the Holy Week. This is when people celebrated all the things Jesus did running up to his death.
This day goes by a number of different names: Black Friday, Good Friday or Holy Friday. According to the Bible, Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) was the day of Jesus’ trial and conviction; the day he was sentenced to be crucified. Then, during the night, Jesus brought his disciples together and had the Last Supper. It was during the Last Supper that Jesus turned water into wine and washed the disciples’ feet. It was on Good Friday that Jesus was crucified. The reason Jesus was crucified was that the Roman Emperor Tiberius felt threatened by Jesus, as people labelled Jesus the ‘King of Jews’ by his followers. Emperors would see themselves as Gods and it was seen as treason for Jesus to be called a king. Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor, was not as eager to sentence Jesus as he could see no reason to punish him. However, the people had the choice to free either Jesus or Barabus, a thief, from punishment and they chose Barabus. The people wanted Jesus crucified and so he was.
On Friday, Jesus was made to wear a crown of thorns as a mockery of his given royal status. Although, thorns themselves are a symbol of sin in the Bible and unknowingly those who made him wear the crown eradicated God’s Curse of sin. This is because, according to Christianity, Jesus sacrificed himself for the sins of men. He was also made to carry his own cross, the one he would be crucified on, to the top of the hill. After Jesus was nailed to the cross, he hung there for six hours until he died. According to the Bible, when Jesus passed away there was an earthquake that caused tombs to break apart. Two followers of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’s body and placed him in the cave.
Now you may be thinking: “why is it called Good Friday if there is not anything good about his death?” Well some debate that ‘good’ actually means ‘God’, so it translates to God’s Friday. Some also believe that it is a ‘good’ day as Jesus saved people from sin.
How is it celebrated?
Hot cross buns are a popular delicacy on Good Friday as they are a sweet way to commemorate the end of Lent. It can also be said that the cross on top of them symbolises the cross that Jesus was crucified on. The first people to eat them were Anglo-Saxons when they celebrated Easter, or Eostre as it was known back then. However, they were not always a Christian tradition. It was Pagan Saxons that baked hot cross buns to honour their goddess of Spring and dawn, Eostre. The Saxons would bake the buns to celebrate the coming of Spring with each quarter of a bun symbolising moon phases. As Christianity became a more popular religion in Britain, the Pagan ways slowly died out.
Moreover, there will be church services that people can attend to pray and sing hymns. Also, in London, there is an outdoor performance called The Passion of Jesus. Every year, the biblical story is performed in Trafalgar Square and actors recreate Jesus’s arrest, trial and crucifixion. Due to Covid 19, people can watch the performance online.
In Ireland, Good Friday may be spent cleaning their houses as their local priest visits each house to bless them. While this not may happen in largely populated areas of Ireland, small towns or rural areas of Ireland may still carry on with this tradition on Easter Sunday. Some people may go and get their hair cut as many believe their hair will be long and thick when it grows back. In some cases, men will not shave their beard as they see it to be unlucky to draw blood on this religious day. It was only in 2018 that the alcohol ban on Good Friday was lifted and it had been in place for nearly a century. This means that some pubs open but some still stay closed.
Additionally, in Jerusalem, people may walk the route that Jesus walked on his way to be crucified. Some of them may carry crosses or flags and some carry heavy luggage on their backs as Jesus did with the cross. People also visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as many believe that is where Jesus is buried.
The day after Jesus’s death, the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ happened. Some do not believe that Jesus went to Hell but some say he did. This is when Jesus supposedly descended into Hell and freed captured people. Some of the people he saved were Adam and Eve, as well as Hebrew patriarchs. As the Bible does not include much as to what happened between Jesus’s death and resurrection, it is down to different branches of Christianity to decide that. Jews in the first century believed that Jesus: “sojourned in Sheol.” Sheol is an eerie underworld in the Hebrew Bible and is a place where every manner of being go after death. This is so there is no judgement on who they were before death.
There are many paintings of this event, such as one painted by Hieronymus Bosch, a Dutch artist. In the painting, Jesus can be seen breaking down the gates of Hell with a staff. In Hell, there are all manner of creatures torturing human souls.
How is it observed?
Many will go to church services, some are held in the evening. This is so they can light a candle for Jesus’s resurrection. It also marks the end of Lent, so many celebrate with other services and a feast. Since it is also the day before Easter, families begin to decorate for Easter by buying chocolate eggs and decorating boiled eggs.
In Mexico, they call Holy Saturday ‘Sabado de Gloria’ and is a day for them to show hatred towards Judas. Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus by revealing his identity in public, which lead to the authorities being able to arrest Jesus. People make figures of Judas out of flammable materials and burn them. Some even make Judas look like Satan.
This is the day that Jesus had supposedly resurrected. According to the Bible, several women took spices and burial preparations to the tomb where Jesus was put and found it empty. Out of all the women who went to the tomb, Mary Magdalene was the only one who stayed. Apparently, an angel came down and approached Mary, telling her that the Lord has risen. Jesus then appeared to her and told her to go to his disciples and then them about his resurrection. When Jesus met with his disciples, he showed them the nail scars on his hands to verify he was in fact, Jesus.
Jesus supposedly spent 40 days on Earth after his resurrection. During his last days in this world, he visited the Apostles numerous times. On the first visit, only ten of them were there. He had magically appeared in the room with their door being locked (as they were afraid they would be killed). The Apostles thought he was a ghost until Jesus showed them the nail scars on his hands. However, Thomas was not there on that day so Jesus reappeared days later to prove his resurrection to Thomas.
Then he visited the sea of Tiberias. There, five of Jesus’s disciples were fishing when Jesus came upon the shores. The five were struggling to get fish until Jesus told them to cast their fishing net to the right side of the boat. After casting their net, it became almost too heavy to live on to the boat as it was filled with fish. Only then did the disciples realise that the man on the shore was Jesus.
On his last day, Jesus ascended into Heaven to be with God. According to the Book of Acts, written by the Apostle Luke, when Jesus ascended a cloud came down to take him into the sky.
How is it celebrated?
In France, children receive chocolate eggs but not from a big, white bunny but from: “Flying church bells.” They believe that the time when the bells do not ring, they are fetching the chocolate from Rome. This is because a rule in France is that the church bells do not ring on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. This is because the silence is used to mourn the death of Jesus. These bells are called the Easter Bells, or ‘les cloches de Paques’. Another French tradition is to have a feast with the family, which usually has lamb as the centrepiece of the meal. They use lamb as that is the animal that commonly symbolises Spring.
Similar to the French Easter feast, in Germany, they have an Easter brunch. They bake pastries, “Hefezopf”, using yeast and shape them into a braid. Another pastry they make is called “Osterkranz” and it is different as it includes dried fruits and nuts. This pastry is not shaped into a braid but a wreath. The lamb is also significant in the German’s meal as they sometimes have a lamb shaped cake. During the evening, people have an Easter bonfire, which was originally Germanic but was integrated into Christianity. The purpose of having the fire is to burn away the Winter and make way for the Spring.
This day is not incorporated in the Bible and not all churches will celebrate it. Some people may see Easter Monday as an extra day added onto their weekend and some people do have to work it. However, since it is the day after Jesus’s resurrection, there are some celebrations that occur on this day.
In the US they have an Easter egg rolling event. This happens at the White House and is hosted by the President and the First Lady. Using hard-boiled eggs that they have decorated themselves, children will roll the eggs down the hill. The first time the White House hosted an Easter egg rolling event was in 1878, this was when Rutherford B. Hayes was president.
Moreover, closer to home in Leicestershire, there are some small towns that have bottle kicking events. The towns Hallaton and Melbourne play against each other and two teams are created. Each team has to move three barrels two streams that are a mile apart. The winning team gets to have the barrels filled at the pub. However, due to the global pandemic, the event has to be cancelled this year.