The Housing Chronicles Blog and MetroIntelligence Real Estate & Economic Advisors would like to wish our readers, clients and colleagues a very Happy Easter! For our Jewish friends, colleagues and clients, we’d also like to wish you a very Happy Passover. So what exactly are the histories of these two holiday periods? Read on for more details…
Easter, which celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is Christianity’s most important holiday. It has been called a moveable feast because it doesn’t fall on a set date every year, as most holidays do. Instead, Christian churches in the West celebrate Easter on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox on March 21. Therefore, Easter is observed anywhere between March 22 and April 25 every year. Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar to calculate when Easter will occur and typically celebrate the holiday a week or two after the Western churches, which follow the Gregorian calendar.
The exact origins of this religious feast day’s name are unknown. Some sources claim the word Easter is derived from Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. Other accounts trace Easter to the Latin term hebdomada alba, or white week, an ancient reference to Easter week and the white clothing donned by people who were baptized during that time. Through a translation error, the term later appeared as esostarum in Old High German, which eventually became Easter in English. In Spanish, Easter is known as Pascua; in French, Paques. These words are derived from the Greek and Latin Pascha or Pasch, for Passover. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection occurred after he went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew), the Jewish festival commemorating the ancient Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt. Pascha eventually came to mean Easter.
Easter is really an entire season of the Christian church year, as opposed to a single-day observance. Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of reflection and penance and represents the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness before starting his ministry, a time in which Christians believe he survived various temptations by the devil. The day before Lent, known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, is a last hurrah of food and fun before the fasting begins. The week preceding Easter is called Holy Week and includes Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus’ last supper with his disciples; Good Friday, which honors the day of his crucifixion; and Holy Saturday, which focuses on the transition between the crucifixion and resurrection. The 50-day period following Easter Sunday is called Eastertide and includes a celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
In addition to Easter’s religious significance, it also has a commercial side, as evidenced by the mounds of jelly beans and marshmallow chicks that appear in stores each spring. As with Christmas, over the centuries various folk customs and pagan traditions, including Easter eggs, bunnies, baskets and candy, have become a standard part of this holy holiday.
One of the Jewish religion’s most sacred and widely observed holidays, Passover (Hebrew: Pesach) commemorates the story of the Israelites’ departure from ancient Egypt, which appears in the Hebrew Bible’s books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, among other texts. Jews observe the weeklong festival with a number of important rituals, including traditional Passover meals known as seders, the removal of leavened products from their home, the substitution of matzo for bread and the retelling of the exodus tale.
One of the most important Passover rituals for observant Jews is removing all leavened food products (known as chametz) from their home before the holiday begins and abstaining from them throughout its duration. Instead of bread, religious Jews eat a type of flatbread called matzo; according to tradition, this is because the Hebrews fled Egypt in such haste that there was no time for their bread to rise, or perhaps because matzo was lighter and easier to carry through the desert than regular bread.
On the first two nights of Passover, families and friends gather for a religious feast known as a seder. During the meal, the story of the exodus from Egypt is read aloud from a special text called the Haggadah (Hebrew for “telling”), and rituals corresponding to various aspects of the narrative are performed. For example, vegetables are dipped into salt water representing the tears Jews shed during their time as slaves, and bitter herbs (usually horseradish) symbolizing the unpleasant years of their bondage are eaten. A seder plate at the center of the table contains Passover foods with particular significance to the exodus story, including matzo, bitter herbs, a lamb shankbone and a mixture of fruit, nuts and wine known as charoset, which represents the mortar Jews used while bonding bricks as slaves in Egypt. Other typical menu items include matzo kugel (a pudding made from matzo and apples), poached fish patties called gefilte fish and chicken soup with matzo balls.
Children play an important role in the seder and are expected to take part in many of its customs. At one point during the meal, the youngest child present recites the four questions, which ask what distinguishes this special night from all other nights. In many households, young people also enjoy participating in the traditional hunt for the afikomen, a piece of matzo that is hidden early in the evening. The finder is rewarded with a prize or money.