Christian Symbolism Behind Why Easter is Celebrated in the Spring

Have you ever wondered why the Church holds important holidays on the specific days that they do? Take Easter for example. Is it just an arbitrary day that a council agreed upon, or is there a deeper, more important meaning hidden behind a date? Many of the reasons Easter is celebrated in the spring are symbolic, but history also plays a part.

Historical Significance behind Easter

The day Easter falls on is based on the lunar calendar. It’s on the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the spring equinox. The Jewish calendar, which is lunar-based, is the reason for this specificity. Jews celebrate Pesach (Passover) during the Catholic Holy Week, the week that leads up to Easter Sunday. resurrection art As Jesus celebrated the Last Supper in his final days, it makes sense historically to have Easter fall shortly after Passover.
Another historical reason that made springtime a good choice for Easter has to do with pagan celebrations. Fertility rites and special days to honor the gods who brought new life to earth were held in the spring by pagans. By celebrating Easter in spring, the Church was able to use the theme of new life, which the pagans already had such a great grasp of, as it related to Jesus and the Church.

Symbolic Significance behind Easter

Conveniently enough, Easter always falls after spring has officially started. This offers an unending supply of metaphors and symbols for the holiday. Spring means no more cold winter; it means warm breezes and greenery. Water that was frozen all winter thaws now to nourish the new life which has remained dormant under the snow. The dead plants and trees from the previous year are born anew. The young of many mammals are born in spring.

The concept of new life is symbolic of humanity being born anew with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Just as the warmer air melts the cold snow, Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection saved us from the cold of death, and made it possible for us to be “born again” into eternal life. The water which helps the plants and trees grow is used as a metaphor for Jesus’ deep love which nourishes us.

Spring Symbolizing the Easter Season in Mass

If you go to an Easter Vigil Mass, there are three rites performed which relate to spring:
Before Mass begins, palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned in a large brazier. This is the remains of winter, or the inevitability of death without eternal life, being burned away.
The Easter ceremony begins in darkness, and only during the Gospel reading, which tells of Jesus rising from the dead, is light restored to the church. Jesus’ resurrection, like spring, banishes death, the cold of winter, and brings light and the promise of new life into the world. The altar is decorated to reflect this: lilies, their whiteness symbolizing purity and new life, are everywhere.
As spring gives new life through warmth and water, Jesus gives eternal life through his death and resurrection. The Sprinkling Rite, when the congregation is showered with blessed water, the water of life, symbolizes this.

Since Christianity strove to replace pagan rituals – many which were held in the spring – with Christian ones, spring was historically an optimum season to celebrate Easter. It’s an added bonus that the premise of Easter holds close symbolic ties to springtime as well: water and new life. It’s something that makes it easy for all people, regardless of the era they live, to relate.

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