By Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
Easter, the most important Christian festival of the year, celebrates the return to life of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity.
After his Crucifixion, Jesus’ return to life is called the Resurrection. The Gospels say that on the morning of two days after Jesus’ death His tomb was found empty. Soon Jesus’ followers began to see him and walk with Him. Christians believe Jesus’ Resurrection means that they too can receive new life after death, which belief the Easter festival celebrates. They say that by His death and Resurrection, Jesus rescued them from eternal death and punishment for their sins.
Most Christians in the Northern Hemisphere observe Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the first day of spring. Thus, the festival can occur on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25. The new plant life that appears in spring symbolises the new life Christians gain because of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection. The word Easter may have come from an early English word, Easter. Some scholars say Easter was the name of a pagan goddess of spring, or the name of a spring festival, or the name of the season itself. Other scholars believe that the word Easter comes from the early German word eostarum, which means dawn. Eostarum may be an incorrect translation of the Latin word albae, meaning both dawn and white. Easter was considered a day of ‘white’ because newly baptised church members wore white clothes at Easter observances.
Easter is the centre of an entire season of the Christian year. The first part is known as Lent, a period of 40 days before Easter Sunday. Christians patterned Lent after the 40 days Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness to prepare for teaching and leading His people. Easter Sunday followed by a 50 - day period that ends on Pentecost is a festival in memory of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, when the Churches have special services and include the using of the ashes on the foreheads of worshipers, and words based on Genesis 3:19, “for dust thou art and unto dust shall thou return.” The ceremony reminds participants that they should begin their Lenten penance in a humble spirit.
Easter Sunday celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus. Services begin on Saturday evening with the Paschal vigil. Candles are lit during Easter celebrations, especially the vigil and midnight services. The lights in each church are put out, leaving everyone in darkness. Then, the priest lights one tall candle and comes in procession with the confreres. The flame from this candle is used to light other candles held by worshipers, which symbolises the spreading the light of Jesus, throughout the world. Christians associate Jesus with the light from Candles, calling Him “the Light of the World”. The special paschal candle is lit on Easter Sunday next to the main altar. The candle represents Jesus’ return to life.
Sunday is a symbol for Easter that is also observed the year-round. Christians traditionally worship on Sunday because that day is associated with the Resurrection.
During the 40-day period beginning with Easter Sunday Christians celebrate the time when Jesus reappeared to some of His followers. This period ends on Ascension Day, or Ascension Thursday. On this day, the story of Jesus’ rise to heaven is read in churches. In the church of Mary Immaculate Conception in Panaji, the feast is celebrated with pomp and gaiety. However, after the Vatican’s changes in celebrating the religious feasts on Sunday instead of on a week day, the feast of Ascension is now celebrated on Sunday after Ascension Thursday. The feast is also known as Festa de Provisões or Purumentache Fest because people from the city and the adjoining villages buy the food provisions for the ensuing monsoons and the whole year. A big fair used to come up where the housewives would buy spices, condiments and onions. Copper vessels and utensils required for the house were also sold at the fair. Today this fair has been reduced considerably, with limited number of spices and onions available for sale. The reason for the change is that today these items can easily be purchased in the market throughout the year. Stalls selling spices have been replaced by those selling ready to wear clothes.
The Easter paschal candle is kept burning for 40 days and is put out on Ascension Day. The Easter season concludes 10 days later with the feast of Pentecost, when the Apostles reported that the Holy Spirit had entered into them. Christians believe that the church began at the same time. In the church of the Holy Spirit in Margão, the feast of Holy Spirit is celebrated, and is the main feast as Holy Spirit is the patron of the church. There is a big fair on this occasion.
The Easter egg tradition has of late caught up with Goans. Most of the pastry shops sell them in different kinds and sizes, some with and others without filling. Eggs, which represent new life, have been adopted by the Christians as an Easter symbol because of the relationship between Easter and the renewal of life. On Maundy Thursday the pastry shops make “hot cross buns”, which are available till Good Friday. These buns have a cross on top of it.
Goans rejoice on Easter Sunday and enjoy the day in the midst of the family. Many also wearing new clothes which represent the new life offered through the death and Resurrection of Jesus, and wearing new is considered to be a good omen.
A tradition followed in Goa, is that of the blessing of the houses with holy water by the priests, every year after Easter. This ritual begins on Easter Sunday, and continues till all the houses are blessed. Members of the family are also requested to be present, so that they are also blessed and participate in the ritual. Prayers are said by the priest and those accompanying him. In the villages, neighbours join the priest in prayers and visit one another’s house. The priest who is accompanied by attendant receives monetary alms.