Regardless of your faith, there are many reasons to look forward to the arrival of springtime. However, Christians and Jews alike both have particular reason to celebrate the season: planning for the Easter and Passover holidays. If you’re Jewish, Easter may be something of a mystery to you. Conversely, if you’re Christian, you may have always wondered what Passover’s all about. Prepare to set aside your confusion and embrace clarity with a little help from this complete guide to Easter and Passover.
Bunnies. Peeps. Egg hunts. Bonnets. All of these things come to mind with mention of the word Easter. But these things have little to do with the event Christians commemorate every year on a Sunday sometime between March 21 and April 25: the resurrection of Jesus on the third day following his crucifixion. Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God, and that he died for their sins. The resurrection represents his triumph over death and evil.
While many people assume that Christmas is the most important holiday of the year for the Christian Church, the truth is that Easter holds this status. It’s also the oldest festival celebrated by Christians — dating all the way back to A.D. 325 when the Council of Nicaea designated a special day in remembrance of the resurrection.
The origins of Easter aren’t religious, however. In fact, they’re decidedly pagan. Explains WhyEaster, “The word ‘Easter’ comes from two old pagan spring festivals. The old European pagan festival of ‘Ostara’ that celebrated new life and Arabian Sun festival of ‘Ishtar’. The early Christians took over the festivals and turned the pagan festivals of new life to mean the new life that Jesus gave the world when he rose from the dead. Unlike Christmas, when Jesus’s birth is celebrated (although we don’t know what time of year Jesus was born!), Easter is celebrated around the same time of year that he was killed.”
Celebrated in the early spring like Easter, Passover is an eight-day festival which celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. Known as “Pesach” in Hebrew, Passover it specifically refers to God sparing the children of Israel when punishing the Egyptians by killing their firstborn. (God “passed over” the homes of the Jews.)
Following God’s command, the Jews, AKA “the Children of Israel,” then left Israel for the Promised Land. (They left so hastily, in fact, that they had no time for their bread to rise – hence the ritual of eating unleavened bread on the holiday.) God also commanded them to observe the anniversary of this Exodus every year by following certain traditions and passing down the story.
While Easter and Passover both always come during the spring, their dates are both variable. Which begs the question: How are Easter and Passover dates calculated, and why are these two holidays sometimes in alignment and sometimes not — especially when the Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead on the first Sunday after the Passover feast?
For Passover, the answer is fairly straightforward. Explains Reference.com, “The dates of Passover are determined by the Hebrew calendar, which functions differently than the Gregorian calendar. Passover occurs on specific dates, the 15th day through the 21st day, during the month of Nisan, which is part of the 12 standard months that make up the Hebrew calendar. Though Passover happens during specific days in a specific month, the Hebrew calendar sometimes incorporates an additional month to even out the days of the year.” As a result, rabbis would sometimes have to decide when the holiday would be celebrated.
Says Catholic.com, “Christians didn’t like being dependent on the pronouncements of rabbis for how to celebrate Christian feasts, so they came up with another way of determining the date. They decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after (never on) the Paschal full moon.”
So why, then, do Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter later than Catholics? According to GreekReporter.com, the reason is twofold: 1. Because they follow the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar and 2. Because they follow a rule initially set by the First Ecumenical Council dictating that Easter follow the Jewish Passover in order to “maintain the Biblical sequence.” Occasionally, however, the two dates do overlap. Continues GreekReporter.com, “The two dates coincide when the full moon following the equinox comes so late that it counts as the first full moon after 21 March in the Julian calendar as well as the Gregorian. This is not a regular occurrence, but it has happened more frequently in recent years – in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017, but, after that, not again until 2034.”
Two last things to keep in mind about both the Passover and Easter holidays?
Technically, Easter — known as one of the church’s “moveable feasts” — isn’t just a day, but an entire season. Explains WhyEaster, “Easter officially starts with Lent on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Day. (Lent lasts for 40 days but you don’t count the Sundays!) Then 39 days after Easter Day, Christians celebrate Ascension Day, when they remember Jesus going back into Heaven and promising to come back to earth one day. Easter officially ends 49 days after Easter Day with the Christian Festival of Pentecost or Whitsun, when Christians remember that God sent his Holy Spirit to help Christians.”
Meanwhile, Passover — like all Jewish holidays — begins the night before it appears on the calendar. In other words, if the calendar lists April 10 as the start of Passover, the holidays will actually begin the prior evening with a family feast.
Speaking of “family feast,” this is another commonality shared by both Easter and Passover: Both bring friends and family together for shared special meals.
Traditional Easter foods vary depending on what part of the world you live in. For example, according to The Telegraph, Russians eat a dish known as pashka: “This pyramid-shaped dessert made from cheese…is often decorated with religious symbols, such as the letters XB, from “Christos Voskres,” which means “Christ is Risen.”
Mexicans, meanwhile, eat capirotada, which The Telegraph describe as “a kind of spiced Mexican bread pudding filled with raisins, cinnamon, cloves, and cheese…It’s said that each ingredient carries a reminder of the suffering of Christ — the cloves being the nails on the cross, the cinnamon sticks the wooden cross and the bread the body of Christ himself.”
Easter bread is a common theme across holiday tables in many countries, including Italy, Poland, and Ukraine. Says Reader’s Digest, “Hot cross buns and other breads marked with an X to symbolize the cross are a tradition on many Easter tables. Different sweet breads are also used all over the world. Try these: Choreg (Armenia), Paska (Ukraine), Babka (Poland), Tsoureki (Greece). Also, try a traditional Italian Easter Bread (shown above) with eggs baked right in. These bread are conspicuously risen breads which may also show a desire for Easter traditions to be different from Passover which includes unleavened breads.”
And while the Easter Bunny may deliver chocolate, no Easter meal is complete without a sweet treat.
The Seder is the feast that marks the beginning of Passover, and as such is a particularly important meal. Says Huffington Post, “It’s the most commonly celebrated of Jewish rituals and often involves the community or multiple generations of a family. A traditional Seder would include discussing the biblical story, drinking four cups of wine, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate and reclining in celebration of freedom.”
Matzo may be the most famous of Passover foods, but why? Reader’s Digest reveals, “As legend goes, the Jews did not have time to wait for the bread to leaven when fleeing Egypt hence they only consumed Matzo, which is a special unleavened bread. During Passover it is eaten as a flat, cracker-like bread or used in dishes as breadcrumbs and in the traditional matzo ball soup.”
Matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, smoked salmon, potato kugel latkes, tzimmes and eggy desserts like sponge cake, macaroons and meringues are also likely to be found on Passover tables.
And don’t forget the Wine. According to The Spruce, “Four glasses of wine are consumed during the service to represent the four-fold promise of redemption, with a special glass left for Elijah the prophet.”
Unfortunately, preparing a holiday meal can not only be time-consuming and labor-intensive but can also distract from the true meaning of the holiday. Which is why gourmet food delivery is an increasingly popular solution among Christians and Jews alike. Offering a wide assortment of holiday foods from many of the country’s best restaurants and specialty purveyors, such as Kenny & Ziggy’s Delicatessen, Linda’s Gourmet Latkes, Sable’s Smoked Fish, Pulaski Meats, Ferrara Bakery and many amazing others. By ordering your gourmet food online this year and having it served directly to your door, you take out the stress so you can focus on the celebration instead.
Now that you know a bit more about the Easter and Passover, the timing of these two holidays probably makes a bit more sense. Concludes MyJewishLearning, “The frequent overlapping of Easter and Passover — of the Christian Holy Week with our eight-day celebration of Passover — merits attention. Unlike the yoking of Christmas and Hanukkah, Easter and Passover are festivals of equal gravity. Side by side they bring to light the deep structures of both religions.”
To start planning your own special Easter or Passover feast, shop foods at leading gourmet food order company FoodyDirect today.