Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion, which is marked on Good Friday. Canadians commonly refer to Easter as the period from Good Friday through Easter Monday.

When Easter is Observed

Easter is observed in March or April. The calendar date depends on the ecclesiastical approximation of the vernal equinox. Astronomically, the vernal equinox occurs when the sun crosses the celestial equator, and night and day are of the same length; this takes place between 19 March and 21 March. Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to fall on 21 March; Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, and thus occurs between the dates 22 March and 25 April.

Does Easter have Pagan Origins?

Like all religious celebrations, Easter has a complex history and there is debate about its origins. According to the Venerable Bede (672-735 CE), a Christian scholar, the word "Easter" came from the Old English eastre, which was probably from the Germanic Eostre, the Great Mother goddess of the Saxon people, who was associated with spring and new life.

It has been suggested by various historians and liberal theologians that death and resurrection legends from ancient traditions that pre-date Christianity (eg, Inanna/Ishtar, Horus, Mithras, Dionysus) were attributed to the story of Jesus Christ to make Christian theology more acceptable to pagans who were being colonized by Christian armies. Many modern Christians, however, consider such myths of little relevance to Jesus and regard the story of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection as true and unrelated to any earlier traditions.

Symbols of Easter

The symbols we associate with modern Easter have more to do with spring than religion and hearken back to the traditions of ancient peoples. Eggs, chicks, flowers, and rabbits are all related to spring, and are associated with the renewal of life after the winter.

Easter in Canada

Canadians celebrate Easter much as people do in other western countries; many Christians attend religious services on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and Canadians in general mark the holiday with family gatherings, food, Easter egg hunts, or the exchange of chocolate eggs and bunnies or small gifts. Foods commonly associated with Easter Sunday include lamb, which is specifically associated with Christ, the "Lamb of God"; ham, which can be traced to pagan rites of spring and was said to bring luck; and bread or cakes, which are representative of fertility in many pagan traditions. Hot cross buns have a particular connection to Easter in Canada by virtue of their English origin. These round, bread-like buns are made with currants and spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg. In the past they were incised with a cross as a symbol of Christ, but in the modern version the cross is often made with piped icing. The practice of eating spiced buns at the time of the spring festival may have arisen from ancient Greek customs, but the English practice of having them on Good Friday appears to have been institutionalized during Tudor times when a bylaw was introduced in London forbidding their sale except on Good Friday or Christmas, or at burials.