Easter is the oldest of the Christian festivals but Australia has a unique Easter as compare to other Christian Countries
- The 2017 Easter Vintage Festival at Highfields Pioneer Village near Toowoomba will take you back in time to see Australia as it was in the early days of colonial settlement and try billy tea, traditional damper and meet Ned Kelly. The family fun and discovery here is worth the reasonably-priced entry fees.
- Easterfest, previously known as The Australian Gospel Music Festival, in Toowoomba, Queensland is another large venue attraction during the Easter 2017 holidays. This is a three day music event that draws more than 20,000 people to Queen’s Park in Queensland each year.
Easter is the most popular time of the year for Australians to go to church. The most common services are on Good Friday morning and Easter Sunday morning, and churches of every variety and denomination will generally focus their services on the simple presentation of the Gospel message. The largest Christian denominations in Australia include Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church, Presbyterian and Baptist – and almost every town or suburb will have one if not multiple churches with Easter services for the local community to take part in. You can also find a church with Easter 2017 services by visiting the Church Near You website.
The meaning of Easter
Easter is the oldest of the Christian festivals. It is celebrated approximately at the end of the first quarter of the calendar year although its date changes depending on the lunar cycle.
In her book, The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister writes,
“Easter the scholars tell us, is the oldest feast in the history of Christianity, but it really only came into focus as a distinct celebration in the late second century… The truth is that Easter, Resurrection, has been celebrated in the church every Sunday since the first week after the resurrection itself.” – Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year
Australia has a unique Easter compared to the UK where many of our Easter traditions came from, due to our location in the Southern Hemisphere of the globe. Easter, which in the Northern Hemisphere is a celebration of the beginning of spring and new life, takes place during autumn in Australia. So an Australian Easter celebrates harvests instead of rejoicing in the coming of spring. The religious aspect of Easter remains the same, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ as recounted in the Bible’s New Testament, and continues to remain one of the most prevalent holidays in the Christian calendar.
Easter in Australia – and around much of the western world – falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the March equinox. This puts Easter Sunday between the end of March and the end of April, depending on the year. In total, Easter is a celebration that spans over a 50-day period. It begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter Sunday with many, many Easter-related events in between.
The pre-cursor to celebrations of Easter in Australia, Palm Sunday represents the coming of Jesus Christ into the town of Jerusalem as recorded in the Christian scriptures. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, it is said that the people of the city waved palm branches to signal his arrival. The traditional church denominations in Australia observe the symbolism by carrying massive palm tree branches in a large procession, while the general congregation carries small crosses made of palm leaves. After the ceremonies come to a close, the churches burn the palm branches and save the ash for symbolic ceremonies during Ash Wednesday.
The season of Lent
The Easter 2017 lent season begins on 1st March with Ash Wednesday and continues Until 15th April on Easter Saturday. In the Christian tradition, Lent is the season of around six weeks that leads up to Easter. It is a period of various forms of fasting or personal reflection that depends on the customs of the denomination and culture. Unlike Easter, in Australia’s culture Lent is not generally recognised outside the churches.
For most, the fasting is simple and minimal to the extent that you may even find that the person you work beside is not eating chocolate or cake or meat as their partial sacrificial fast. Others go much further and partake of only a meagre subsistence diet.
Lent has been a part of church life since fairly early in Christian history, although not as early as Easter has been observed. It is not governed by any ordinance in the Christian writings that we know as the Bible. Instead it exists today due to tradition and by a religious passion to honour the season leading up to the Easter weekend and what Christians see as the ‘sacrifice’ of Jesus.
The word ‘Lent’ came into use in medieval times. It was the word in the English vernacular that meant ‘spring’. Before then, Lent was referred to by the Latin word quadragesima with variations between languages. This word relates to the forty days that Jesus fasted after his baptism and the forty days (minus Sundays in some churches) of Lent.
Ash Wednesday falls 46 days before Easter Sunday and is the beginning day of Lent. For Easter 2017, Ash Wednesday will be on March 1st. Celebrated by most Western Christian denominations, it rides on the concept that Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting and praying in the desert, all the while overcoming Satan’s temptations. In ancient times, lying in ash and covering oneself with sackcloth was said to be a way to outwardly show an inner repentance. This process has been adapted for modern times by the churches into a simpler, more symbolic ritual. The ash collected from the burning of the palm branches from the Palm Sunday procession is used to place the mark of a cross on the congregant’s forehead. Some churches simply sprinkle the ash over the follower’s head during special ceremonies.
Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, celebrates The Last Supper and is the day before Good Friday. During Easter 2017, Maundy Thursday falls on April 13th. During The Last Supper, Jesus was said to have washed his disciples’ feet and consecrated the bread and wine at the table. It was on the eve of The Last Supper that he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and was later arrested, which ultimately led to his crucifixion. Churches commemorate this event by holding a special service called a Eucharist that includes blessing oils, bread, and wine as well as foot washing and story-telling rites.
Good Friday is the beginning of the Australian Easter holiday long weekend and is the day when Christians commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. For Easter 2017, Good Friday falls on April 14th.
According to the Christian scriptures, Jesus lived and died during the first four decades of the 1st Century AD. The Bible, the key spiritual writings about the Christian faith, proclaims Jesus Christ to be God’s son who came to Earth to teach about God and to lead the way for people to find ‘salvation’ through Christ’s death and resurrection.
When Jesus was around 33 years old, the Bible recounts that he was falsely accused of being a heretic and a troublemaker. He was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate and on the Friday of that weekend was killed by being nailed to a wooden cross. As the next day was the Jewish Sabbath, his body was removed at the end of Friday and placed in a tomb.
On the Sunday, now known as Easter Sunday, when friends visited the tomb to embalm his body, and despite the tomb being sealed by a rock and with armed Roman guards on duty, his body had gone. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ had risen from death as a part of God’s plan to vanquish the death of the spirit of man and the hold of sin over mankind.
History is vague about when Good Friday and Easter were first celebrated but there are some pointers that indicate that it was commemorated originally around the mid-2nd Century.
Today, Good Friday is commemorated in different ways throughout Christian society depending on denomination and culture. Generally, Good Friday is a day when a level of fasting is recognised. Some denominations take Communion (the sharing of bread and wine) and some do not. And some Christians do not celebrate Easter, believing that some of the history of the celebration has pagan origins.
Good Friday is also taken as a holiday by those who don’t accept the Christian faith. To believers and those who are not, the long weekend is used as an opportunity to gather with friends and family and, often, to go away for a holiday before the cooler Australian weather arrives.
Holy Saturday is the second day of the Easter weekend and is commemorated by Christians as the day Jesus Christ’s body lay in a borrowed tomb after his death the day before. Holy Saturday falls on April 15th for Easter 2017.
That first Holy Saturday was the Jewish Sabbath meaning that Jesus’ body could not be prepared for burial until Sunday, so his tomb was left sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers.
Holy Saturday is also known, amongst other names, as Black Saturday or Easter Eve. It is not to be confused with Easter Saturday, which is the first Saturday of the Easter Week seven days earlier.
In the Christian Church, there are no special celebrations on this day because it is a day of sombre remembrance before Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection (rising from death) of Jesus. Many consider Holy Saturday as a day of quiet expectation.
In the wider community, the Saturday of Easter is almost a normal day. Most shops and businesses are closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, which means that the Saturday between is considered by many to be a designated shopping day.
Depending on the state and the dates of Easter, the weekend may also fall on school holidays making Holy Saturday a particularly busy day in shopping and holiday centres.
Meant to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from his tomb, Easter Sunday is a joyous event in the Christian calendar. It falls on April 16th for Easter 2017. Churches are filled with people more than at any other time of year except perhaps Christmas, with songs and hymns sung and usually a Gospel presentation by a pastor or minister. Children are given gifts of chocolate eggs and decorated egg hunts occur around most homes. A national holiday, almost all businesses are closed, depending on the regulations of the state or territory. In some locations, public transport operates on a restricted schedule, while in other areas there is no public transport running at all. Across Australia the day is filled with both cultural and sporting events and most citizens spend their some of their Easter holiday either attending or watching one of these events on TV.
Easter Monday is the last of the national public holidays relating to the Easter 2017 celebrations. Most businesses and all schools are closed and public transportation is either shut down or operating on restricted hours. While the holiday marks the finalisation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, most Australians use it as a free day to attend events and family dinners.
Easter Eggs and chocolate
In Australia, the most obvious sign of Easter’s approach is the huge market of Easter eggs.
Easter eggs are not only eggs, are not only chocolate, and are not always empty. Some of these treats are shaped like tall standing rabbits with long ears and wearing bow ties. Some are cute bunnies or chicks or ducks or cartoon characters and some are footballs. And a few are even made from confectionary or carob. Many contain further sweet treats or novelties.
In the invisible place where church and world overlap, many believe that the Easter egg relates to the shape of the stone that was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter Sunday. Others believe that the egg signifies new life that comes from the sacrifice of Jesus’ death, the miracle of his coming back to life (his resurrection) and the additional promise of eternal life for believers.
Beyond the spiritual significance of Easter, Easter eggs are a visual and scrumptious slice of the culture of the Easter weekend in Australia and, as around the world, are the subjects of many Easter egg hunts.
People have painted and carved birds’ eggs for thousands of years, perhaps for decoration and sometimes for religious reasons, even before Christ. Easter eggs have popped up along the Christian journey in different forms but formally entered the scene in the early seventeenth century.
The Easter Bilby
Easter celebrations in most countries include the use of the Easter Bunny, who is seen as a symbol of Easter and the bringer of the Easter eggs. However, rabbits are considered pests in Australia, causing costly damage to farms and devastating crops. Hence, attempts have been made – somewhat successfully – to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby – a small marsupial with long ears and nose. The Bilby is a small, timid creature that is native only to Australia and currently on the endangered species list. In 1994, an organization named the Anti-Rabbit Research Foundation embarked on a campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby. Receiving great support, you can now purchase chocolate Bilbies and children’s books about the Easter Bilby, with proceeds going towards the conservation of the animal.
Hot Cross Buns
Since Australia was originally a British colony, it shares many of the same religious and holiday customs. One such shared-custom is the eating of hot cross buns on Good Friday. Hot cross buns are generally a spiced bun made with dried fruit. These are then topped with an iced cross made of a flour and water mixture. Australians have put their own spin on the favorite pastry, now offering the buns in a chocolate variety. The dried fruit has been replaced with chocolate chips and cocoa powder has been added to the spice mixture. Although typically consumed on Good Friday, you can find hot cross buns for sale in shops and street vendor’s carts all throughout the Easter holiday time.
Easter weekend is the culmination of many high profile horse races and major league football games. As well as highly televised sports matches, there are several notable sports events occurring around the nation during the Easter weekend celebrations.
One such festivity is the Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race. Beginning on Good Friday, the race contains anywhere from 40 to 100 boats and has been occurring annually since 1949. The course stretches from Shorncliff in Moreton Bay in Queensland to Gladstone Harbour and is organised by the Queensland Cruising Yacht Club.
The Australian Three Peaks Race is held in Tasmania every year during the Easter weekend. The course includes 335 nm of sailing, 131 km of running, and 2,646 m of climbing. It is a non-stop weekend event that begins at Launceston’s Beauty Point on the Tamar River and ends in the Tasmanian Capital City. Designed after the British Barmouth to Fort William Three Peaks Race, the Australian Three Peak Race was instituted in 1989 and has reoccurred annually since then.
Perhaps the oldest of the Easter sporting events, The Stawell Gift has been occurring yearly since 1878. Every Easter weekend, except for a short stint during the Second World War, the Stawell Gift has been the highlight of the Easter sporting proceedings. The most prestigious of all Australian footraces, it is run over 120 metres of grass track in front of the 100 year old Grandstand in Stawell’s Central Park and implores a handicapping procedure that can often pit local runners against international specialists. The three day meeting begins on the Saturday of Easter weekend and comes to a close on Easter Monday. Over 60 events take place during the weekend’s meeting, with the Stawell Gift being the feature. Gambling is allowed inside of the facility with an on-site bookmaker’s center.
While most Australian Easter traditions are similar to those of other Western Christian based countries, Australians have adjusted the celebrations slightly to fit our own culture and season. While Easter remains the height of the Christian’s calendar in Easter, most Easter celebrations are more cultural and sports focused than religious based. Churches are still flooded with worshipers during the most significant holiday of the year; however Easter has recently become a cluster of prestigious social events and music festivals, too.
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