Easter (Germ. Ostern, old Saxon oster, os-ten, rising), the Christian passover and festival of the resurrection of Christ. The English name is probably derived from that of the Teutonic goddess of spring, Ostera or Eostre, whose festival occurred about the same time of the year as the celebration of Easter. The Hebrew-Greek word has passed into the name given to this feast by most Christian nations. The French call it Paques, the Scotch Pasch, the Dutch Paschen, the Danes Paaslce, and the Swedes Pask St. Paul calls Christ "our Pasch;" and both the eastern and western churches from the beginning distinguished a twofold event in the Easter commemoration, the slaying of "the Lamb of God" and his resurrection; hence the terms in their liturgies, pascha crucifixionis and pascha resurrec-tionis. And the distinction between the day on which Christ died and that on which he rose again had not a little to do with the Easter controversy in the early church, originating in a difference of custom with regard to the day of the week and the day of the month on which Easter should be celebrated. As the Christians held that Christ, the true paschal lamb, had been slain on the very day when the Jews in celebration of their passover immolated the figurative lamb, so, both in the West and in the East, those who believed the Christian passover to be a commemoration of Christ's death adhered to the custom of holding the Easter festivity on the day prescribed for the Jewish pasch.
Now, as the Jews celebrated their passover on the 14th day of the first month, that is to say, the lunar month of which the 14th day either falls on or next follows the day of the vernal equinox, all Christians who persisted in following this custom in the celebration of Easter came to be called quartodecimans or "fourteenth-day men," or, still more oppro-briously, Judaizing Christians. The great majority of Christian churches, attaching most importance to the day of Christ's resurrection, which was the first day of the week (hence called the Lord's day, our Sunday), held to Easter's being celebrated on that day, and on the Sunday which followed the 14th day of the moon of March, the day on which Christ suffered. This question, one of custom and local discipline in the beginning, had given so much trouble that about 158 Polycarp, disciple of St. John the Evangelist and bishop of Smyrna, went to Rome to consult with Pope Anicetus on the means of healing the difference. In the council held in Rome on this occasion, the western or present manner of celebrating Easter was affirmed; but Polycarp departed with the full friendship of the pope and in the communion of the church of Rome. Gradually, however, the question of the Easter celebration from one of discipline became one of dogma.
In 182 a priest called Blastus made himself very obnoxious in Rome by endeavoring to have the Jewish rule of celebrating Easter on the 14th day of the moon of March adopted as a rule of faith. The discussion throughout the Christian world had become so angry that Po-lycrates, bishop of Ephesus, appealed to Victor, bishop of Rome, asking to have this matter decided once and for all. Councils were at once assembled in Gaul, Pontus, Osroene, Achaia, and other countries, as well as in Rome. The result was a decision fixing the feast of Easter, or the resurrection, on the Sunday immediately following the 14th day of the March moon. Polycrates refused to acquiesce in this decision, because it involved an abandonment of the customs of his fathers. The decree of excommunication pronounced against the quartodecimans by the council of Rome was held in abeyance, at the prayer of Ire-naeus of Lyons; and a schism was thus averted. After this the contending parties agreed to maintain their respective customs and practices in this respect without censuring one another.
Constantino had the subject brought before the council of Nice, in 325. The question was fully discussed, and finally settled for the whole church by adopting the rule which makes Easter day to be always the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon or next after March 21; and if the full moon happen on a Sunday, Easter day is the Sunday after. By this arrangement Easter may come as early as March 22, or as late as April 25. In France the year began with Easter from the 12th century till 1564, for which year Charles IX. fixed Jan. 1 as the first day. - This sacred festival has been termed the queen of festivals; it has been observed from the very beginning, and is celebrated in every part of the Christian world with great solemnity and devotion. Formerly the churches were ornamented with large wax candles, and the Christians saluted each other with a kiss and the words "Christ is risen," to which the response was made, "He is risen indeed." This custom is still retained in the Greek church, particularly in Russia. The day before Easter Sunday, or Holy Saturday, has ever been set apart as a day for specially solemnizing baptism. Courts of justice were closed, alms were distributed, slaves were freed, and the people gave themselves up to enjoyment and feasting.
In nearly all Christian countries the recurrence of Easter has been celebrated with various ceremonies and popular sports and observances. Among the best known is the custom of making presents of colored eggs, called pasch or pace eggs, which were often elaborately ornamented; and in a royal roll of the time of Edward I., preserved in the tower, appears an entry of 18d. for 400 eggs to be used for this purpose. Colored eggs were used by children at Easter in a sort of game which consists in testing the strength of the egg shells, and this practice is still continued in most Christian countries. In some parts of Ireland the legend is current that the sun dances in the sky on Easter Sunday morning. This was once a prevailing superstition in England also, which Sir Thomas Browne, in his " Inquiry into Vulgar Errors," thought it not superfluous to declare unfounded. The game of ball was a favorite Easter sport, in which municipal corporations formerly engaged with due parade and dignity; and at Bury St. Edmund's within a few years the game was kept up with great spirit by twelve old women. In the northern counties of England the men parade the streets on Easter Sunday, and claim the privilege of lifting every woman three times from the ground, receiving in payment a kiss or a silver sixpence.
The same is done by the women to the men on the next day.