SUNDAY, APRIL 8: More than a billion Christians around the world—including the Obamas—celebrate the most important holiday in the Christian year, today! It’s Easter!
EASTER POLITICAL NEWS: At ReadTheSpirit, we’re not choosing sides in the 2012 presidential race by including the Obamas in our Easter report. However, as journalists, we are accurately reporting the Easter news, which is: Yes, the 134th White House Easter Egg Roll will take place (on Monday April 9) with the Obamas once again serving as enthusiastic cheerleaders for all of those children trying to roll their eggs across the lawn with big wooden spoons. This is news because, in headline stories nationwide last month, pollsters revealed that roughly half of the Republicans voting in Southern primaries mistakenly claimed that the president is Muslim.
PRESIDENTIAL EASTER HISTORY: Historians agree that all presidents since Rutherford B. Hayes (who first moved the annual Washington D.C. Easter Egg Roll to the White House lawn more than a century ago) have claimed some form of Christian affiliation. That claim is not without controversy. Richard Nixon famously claimed to be Quaker, even though he waged a most un-Quaker-like war. Other presidents were accused of cynically welcoming popular evangelists for their political support (although Harry Truman once kicked a young Billy Graham out of the Oval Office). Our most famous evangelical Christian president was Jimmy Carter—who just visited ReadTheSpirit last month to talk about his faith. Some historians argue that all U.S. presidents have been Christians although, this spring, historians are freshly debating the religious beliefs of Thomas Jefferson. What is clear is that, since the era of Hayes, the First Family has hosted the nation’s civic celebration of Easter. (The Roosevelts cancelled the Easter Egg Roll during the actual U.S. fighting in WWII, but maintained other Easter traditions.)
WHY ONLY A ‘BILLION-PLUS’ CHRISTIANS? Our holiday headline may be puzzling because there are more than 2 billion Christians in the world. However, this year, Eastern Orthodox Christians are one week later than Western churches. Their Easter (or Pascha) celebration is April 15.
WHY IS THIS THE BIGGEST HOLIDAY IN CHRISTENDOM? These days, Christmas Eve services draw about as many men, women and children as Easter—but Christian leaders agree: Easter is the celebration of Jesus resurrection and that Good News is the single biggest event in the history of what amounts to the world’s single biggest religion. Today, around the world, church bells will ring out; congregations will sing God’s praises; and most congregations will be filled with flowers and special decorative arts—often banners or flags or sacred images. (Wikipedia has more details.)
PAGAN ROOTS: The English term “Easter” derives from the pagan term for the month of April, “Eostre.” See our earlier story about Eostre or Ostara. But the Christian Easter festival has been observed since as early as the mid-2nd century. (Learn more about the history of Easter at History.com.)
WHEN DOES LENT END? Western Christians vary on the precise method for counting the 40 days of Lent. Even more confusing is the fact that Eastern Christians use a distinctively different method of counting out the days of this Christian season. Across the United States, for most Christian congregations, Lent began on Ash Wednesday and extends until Easter—but the Sundays in between are not counted in the total of 40 days. Want to prepare for Easter with some inspirational Lenten reading? Try our Lenten Voices series.
FOODS, DECORATED EGGS and FAMILY FUN
After exultant Easter services, most Christians hold a family brunch or dinner. Looking for entertaining tips? Check out Better Homes and Gardens. In search of recipes? Try one from AllRecipes. Want some fresh ideas for celebrating with kids? Try a craft, quiz or coloring page for kids from Kaboose—and the list of ways to decorate eggs is endless. Try out stenciled eggs and more with help from Kaboose. Families in Europe may be out of egg options this year, though, as egg prices have skyrocketed since 2011. The European Union recently tightened its requirements on the egg industry, demanding that hens have bigger, more “animal-friendly” cages. (Read an article here.) Since these requirements went into force, egg production across the EU has dropped 10-15 percent, and prices have doubled and tripled.
Following Easter, the Western Christian Church will enter a 50-day Eastertide, ending on Pentecost Sunday. The Eastern Orthodox Church will welcome Pascha (Easter) one week from today.