The Traditions of Pascha

The Orthodox Tradition of Pascha (Easter) is paralleled by traditions about the Feast and the Paschal period. In different nations and different cultures, the many meanings associated with the Great Feast have been expressed in different ways. For example, in some parts of the world, Palm Sunday is celebrated using palms, in others (notably Russia) pussy-willow is used. Each plants has rich symbolism associated with it, and the symbolism is complementary, not in conflict.
Learning about the diverse traditions of Pascha can enliven and enrich our experience of the Great Feast. In the age of the web, searches on Google enable us to follow trails of traditions. For example, the Wikipedia entry on “Palm Sunday”
[ provides information about and links to sites on traditions ancient and modern, and from some fourteen countries. The entry on “Easter Vigil”[ gives detailed information about traditions in West and East. There is currently a revival of interest in older traditions for the Christian year, and a number of Roman Catholic websites, for example, offer suggestions for celebrating those traditions both in church and at home: see, for example, Many of these older traditions, sometimes referred to as “folk traditions”, were intended to maximize the involvement and participation of the laity, and to encourage the use of the home as a place of liturgical celebration.
The traditions also often sought to convey through symbolism truths beyond human language or intellect: for example: plunging the Church into darkness at the Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows” or “darkness”) rite; or lighting the new fire (traditionally taken from the sun by use of a magnifying glass, or by the striking of flint against steel).
Christians have, from the beginning, sought to explore the rich symbolism of the Paschal Feast. A symbolic approach does not question or diminish an understanding of the events as having occurred in time and space, but looks beyond to their universal and spiritual meanings. Symbolism, allegory and typology have a long history in Christianity: see For example, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) distinguished between literal, mystical, moral, and prophetic interpretations of Scripture. Each interpretation enhanced and elucidated the others.
easter egg 2
For example, Easter Eggs, now largely rather tasteless commercial products, have an ancient history both before and in early Christianity. Rather than condemn and abandon this ancient tradition because of its modern abuse, we should use the older traditions to make the egg a symbol for use in teaching about the Great Feast. “Easter eggs symbolize the empty tomb of Jesus: though an egg appears to be like the stone of a tomb, a bird hatches from it with life; similarly, the Easter egg, for Christians, is a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave, and that those who believe will also experience eternal life…The custom of the Easter egg…originated in the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion.”

There are many traditions regarding food for the period before and during the Paschal Feast, and these inevitably involve rich symbolism about why particular foods are eaten: see, for, example
passover seder
Food can be a valuable (if largely overlooked in modern culture) basis for teaching. Remember the tradition of the Jewish Passover Sedir [Hebrew: סֵדֶר][ see ] in which children ask four questions of their Father beginning with the words, Mah Nishtana HaLeila HaZeh (“Why is this night different from all other nights?” – Hebrew: מַה נִּשְׁתַּנָּה, הַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה מִכָּל הַלֵּילוֹת). The questions encourage those at the meal to discuss the significance of the symbolism of the food.

A good basic understanding of the history of Paschal Tradition and traditions will enable to Great Feast to be celebrated both at home and in Church with new life and enthusiasm. It will also provide an appropriate response to populist claims, which seem to be “resurrected” every Easter, about the “Pagan Origins of Easter”!

There are several (now rather old) books providing valuable information about the rituals, traditions and symbolism of the Paschal Feast. For example:
Hole Easter
Christina Hole “Easter and Its Customs” [Richard Bell, London, 1961]
watts easter
Alan Watts “Easter. Its Story and Meaning” [Abelard Schuman, London, 1958]
weiser easter
Francis Weiser “The Easter Book” [Staples Press, London, nd but 1955]


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