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When Is Easter 2021? A Brief History and Why We Celebrate

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Easter 2021 falls on April 4. Every year, the holiday is celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21, the spring equinox.

In 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council of the Christian church, declared that Easter should be observed on this date. Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25.

Orthodox Easter celebrations usually take place later than that of Roman Catholics and Protestants. This is because Eastern Orthodox churches base their calculation of the date of Easter on the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar.

Why do we celebrate Easter?

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, who Christians believe was raised back to life three days after he was crucified. Easter also marks the end of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday in Western churches, six and a half weeks before Easter.

Lent is a period of repentance and fasting before Easter. In modern times, during Lent many Catholics and other Christians choose to forgo certain pleasures, such as alcohol, chocolate or other foods. The act is done to promote self-control and focus on prayer and other spiritual matters in the lead up to Easter.

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What do eggs have to do with Easter?

Eggs came to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus and new life. Since the 12th century, meals marking the end of the fast during Lent included eggs as well as other foods such as ham, cheeses and bread.

Eating eggs during Holy Week (the week falling between Palm Sunday and Easter) was banned by the church. The idea of labeling eggs laid during this week as “Holy Week” eggs is what led to the tradition of painting eggs on Easter. The use of painted Easter eggs was first recorded in the 13th century.

Easter eggs are painted red in the Orthodox tradition to represent the blood of Jesus shed during his crucifixion.

What about the Easter Bunny?

Rabbits are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life. But the exact origins of its associations with Easter are unclear. While the association began in Europe in the 17th century, it did not become common until the 19th century.

The Easter Bunny is a folklore character known to lay eggs as well as decorate and hide them. Some sources say the Easter Bunny tradition can be traced back to the 1700s when German immigrants arrived in Pennsylvania and introduced their tradition of the “Osterhase,” an egg-laying hare. Their children created nests in which the mythical creature could lay their decorated eggs.

Easter egg hunts and the White House Easter Egg Roll have become popular fixtures in the U.S. The annual White House event sees parents and kids invited to roll eggs across the South Lawn of the White House using spoons with long handles.

The White House Historical Association explains: “The first annual White House Easter Egg Roll was held on April 22, 1878 after President Rutherford B. Hayes agreed to open the White House grounds on Easter Monday to children who want to roll Easter eggs.

“In April 1969 the tradition of an official White House Easter Bunny was born when one of first lady Pat Nixon’s staff members put on a white jumpsuit and Peter Rabbit mask and shook children’s hands along the South Lawn’s circular driveway,” it adds.

Items from the White House Easter Egg Roll on display at the Bunny Museum in Pasadena, California on December 8, 2016.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

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