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Easter: 2 billion Western Christians rejoice for the Resurrection of Jesus

Upward vantage point of churchgoers in congregation raising their hands and responding to activity at the front of the church

Churchgoers rejoice for the Resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday 2013 in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Mars Hill Church Seattle, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, APRIL 20: East meets West this year as more than 2 billion men, women and children celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, on Easter. Hot cross buns, chocolate bunnies and brunch souffles fill tables and baskets of plenty on this joyous holiday, as families and friends gather to mark this, the focal point of the entire Christian calendar year. Lilies adorn altar spaces and remind churchgoers both of resurrection (blossoms from dormant spring bulbs)—and that Jesus enjoyed a form of lily himself as is evidenced in the Gospel of Luke. The 50 days following Easter are called Eastertide.

Though termed Pascha in the Eastern Christian Church, the themes are similar across East and West.

Pink, thick-cut slice of lamb with brown meat gravy on a dinner plate

A traditional Easter meal features lamb, in memory of Christ, the Paschal Lamb. Photo courtesy of Flickr


Easter in America may be characterized as much by the Easter Bunny and pastel-hued candies as it is by Christian joy in Christ’s Resurrection. Egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many American families, although for Christians, shared meals most often involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle. A traditional Easter menu also often features lamb—a symbol of Christ at this time of year as the Paschal Lamb. However, these days, Easter hams far outpace cuts of lamb. Whether at church or at a post-service feast, Christians dress in their best apparel on Easter day.

In France and Belgium, the bells that “went to Rome on Maundy Thursday” return home for the evening Easter Vigil, only to bring Easter eggs to boys and girls—or so, the story has it. (Wikipedia has details.)

In most countries with a substantial Christian population, Easter is a public holiday.


The New Testament describes the events of the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe verify him as the Son of God. There is no recorded “moment of resurrection,” but rather, the discovery by Mary Magdalene (and possibly others) early on Sunday morning—that the tomb was empty.

In his crucifixion, Jesus died on a Roman cross. That evening, according to Christian tradition, Joseph of Arimathea asked the Roman official Pilate for the body, wrapped it in linen cloth and laid it in a tomb. Saturday passed, and early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene (and, some Gospels attest, other women in attendance) visited the tomb of Jesus. Much to their surprise, the tomb’s stone was moved, and a messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Gospel accounts vary regarding the messenger’s specific message and the women’s response, but all emphasize that the empty tomb was witnessed. To this day, sunrise services are popular in some regions on Easter Sunday, echoing the traditional stories of the empty tomb.

Did you know? Ukrainian legend has it that after Christ resurrected, He threw Satan into a pit and chained him with 12 iron chains. Throughout the year, Satan chews at the chains, but just as he gets to the final chain, Easter arrives and the people shout, “Christ is risen!” If devotees ever cease this Easter acclamation, the end of time has come.

First evidence of the Easter festival appears in the mid-2nd century, and today, an elaborate Vigil usually begins in darkness and gives way to the singing of “Alleluia,” trumpets and unfettered joy.

Pile of colored eggs in basket with green Easter grass, table blurry underneath with three chocolate foil-wrapped eggs

Eggs are a widely recognized symbol of Eastertime. Photo by Nomadic Lass, courtesy of Flickr


  • Feeding a crowd—or a few? Flavorful recipes for pastries, elaborate egg dishes and even a bunny house are at Food Network.
  • The sophisticated palate will likely find pleasing combinations at Food and Wine, with ideas ranging from lamb dishes to Boston lettuce salad with herbs to a creamy quiche.
  • Marbleized, glittering and chalkboard eggs are a snap to create, thanks to tips from Martha Stewart, Reader’s Digest and Home and Garden Network.
  • Glow-in-the-dark eggs for a nighttime hunt are more feasible than they might sound: Wiki How offers instructions.
  • Set your Easter table a little more creatively this year, with help from Martha Stewart and HGTV.
  • Real grass in Easter baskets? Why not? Try your hand at this unique project, with a simple how-to from the Mom-centered blog, HowDoesShe.
  • Homemade chocolate Easter eggs are made easy, thanks to directions from the BBC.
  • Kids can get into the bunny spirit with craft ideas from


For the first time in more than a century, a Faberge Easter egg—one that once belonged to Russian royalty—will be on display, reports BBC News. A scrap metal dealer in the United States bought the egg for approximately $14,000, with plans to melt it for gold, but soon discovered that it was one of only 50 created for the Russian royals, with a value of approximately 20M pounds, or $33M.

Tomorrow—Monday, April 21—the First Family will host the 136th annual White House Easter Egg Roll, with the theme, “Hop into Healthy, Swing into Shape.” The 2014 White House Keepsake Eggs come in four colors—pink, orange, blue and green—and include, of course, the signatures of both the President and First Lady. The Keepsake Eggs were incorporated into this White House tradition in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan and his wife hosted a hunt for wooden eggs. Find more information here.

Note: Easter is followed by the 50 days of Eastertide, which comes to an end on Pentecost Sunday.

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Categories: ChristianInternational Observances

Pascha: Eastern Orthodox Christians rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus

Russian Patriarch in elaborate robes holding candles in a fanciful cathedral, surrounded by a circle of men also in elaborate robes

Patriarcha Kirill of Moscow and all Russia during a Pascha service at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, APRIL 20: The glorious day has arrived and 2 billion Christians the world over come to rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, today is the Great and Holy Pascha. So named because of its reference to Jesus, the paschal lamb (St. John indicates that Jesus was crucified at the time the paschal lambs were being killed), in addition to the historical occurrence of Jesus’ crucifixion during the Passover feast, Orthodox Christians hold dear the name of Pascha. The Orthodox Research Institute does indicate, however, that the word Easter may be used interchangeably with Pascha in mixed company, for both titles hail the same event that defines the very essence of Christianity: the Resurrection (and eventual Ascension) of Jesus.

Pascha services begin in the darkness of Saturday evening, running late into the night. Just before midnight, a celebrant walks to the church’s temporary “tomb,” and removes the cover sheet: and behold, Jesus is not there! The sheet is carried to the altar table, and at midnight, the magnificent Pascha procession begins.  (Learn more from Orthodox Church in America.)

The Paschal Troparion is sung, together with the verses of Psalm 68, which from now will signal the start of every service during the Easter season. In a church adorned in flowers, attendants face the Easter icon: an image of Christ destroying the gates of hell and freeing Adam and Eve from death. The atmosphere is overwhelmingly joyous; hymns announce victory over death, and all are invited to partake in the Holy Communion, of Christ, the Passover lamb.


Round, braided bread, brown on top with one red egg on top. Three red eggs sit beside the bread on a table

Traditional Greek Pascha bread, tsoureki, is decorated with symbolic red eggs. Photo by Lorenzo Gaudenzi, courtesy of Flickr

Unlike the Western Christian Lenten fast, which prohibits meat just on Fridays and on Ash Wednesday, the Eastern Orthodox Lenten fast prohibits dairy and meat during the entire season—and so on Pascha, the feast is magnificent! A primary component of the Russian table today is pascha—a dense, cold cheesecake often made with curd cheese and dried fruits—alongside kulichi, soft fruit cakes. (Find an authentic recipe for pascha here. A recipe for kulich, or kulichi, is here.)

In Greece, grilled vegetables, bean salads, seafood and breads complement the centerpiece: the Pascha lamb. Spiced to perfection, the lamb (or, occasionally, goat) satisfies palates alongside the traditional tsoureki, a Greek bread that is decorated with red eggs. (Recipes for Greek lamb, soup, asparagus and tsoureki are in this article from National Public Radio.)

Why red eggs? Red eggs have long been an integral part of Eastern Orthodox Pascha, and with good reason: several legends tell of miracles that began with red eggs. In one, Mary Magdalene was bringing cooked eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus, and when she saw the risen Jesus Christ, the eggs suddenly turned a vibrant red. In a different story, Mary Magdalene was spreading word of Jesus’ resurrection when she approached the doubtful Emperor of Rome. Upon her greeting, the emperor remarked that, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” With that, the egg turned a dark red. Yet another legend tells of Mary Magdalene’s egg turning red in the presence of Julius Caesar—and because of these miraculous stories, Orthodox Christians exchange red eggs at Pascha.

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Categories: Christian

Hanuman Jayanti: Hindus worship divine courage, fearlessness

Tall orange building, a temple, three stories with a deck at the top, in dirt street of India

The Karmanghat Hanuman Temple in Hyderabad, India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, APRIL 15: In many regions of India, this is the annual celebration of the birth of a “monkey-god”—Hanuman Jayanti. Ever a steadfast and ardent devotee of Lord Rama, Hanuman often is honored along with Lord Rama; devotees of Hanuman hope to obtain his strength and energy. The Ramayana and other texts detail his crediting all superhuman powers to Lord Rama, labeling himself only as a servant of the deity.

It is believed that Hanuman can assume any form. Yet, most notably, Hanuman is known for his humility. (Learn more at Taj Online.) On his jayanti, Hindus across India flock to Hanuman temples, recite Hanuman Chalisa (song of Hanuman) and apply a reddish-orange tilaka to their foreheads, signifying the color of the monkey-god.

Festivities for Hanuman Jayanti begin early, with pujas, trips to the temple and special prayers. Prayers and hymns continue throughout the day, as devotees look to Lord Hanuman to avert evil, bring courage and deliver willpower. (Wikipedia has details.) Many Hindus fast and read the Hunuman Chalisa on his jayanti, before joining in Prasad—an offering of food distributed among devotees. (Read about this, and the many other holidays occurring in India this week, from Times of India.)

Did you know? Hanuman avatar is considered the 11th Rudra avatar of Lord Siva.

Sri Hanuman enjoys great popularity in India, and the monkey-god also is well known in Hindu communities worldwide. In Trinidad and Tobago, Hanuman statues reach 15-, 25- and even 85-foot. Newsday reports that devotees will sing Hanuman Chalisa 108 times, uninterrupted, for the ideal yogi and beloved deity.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Jehovah’s Witness: Participants, witnesses attend Lord’s Evening Meal

SUNSET MONDAY, APRIL 14: Jehovah’s Witnesses the world over gather tonight for the memorial of the Last Supper and Jesus’s death, better known as the Lord’s Evening Meal. Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Memorial at the beginning of the Passover period each year.

Across the rest of the Christian world, the Last Supper is remembered later in Holy Week. Jehovah’s Witnesses also mark the evening’s events in a slightly different way: most attend the ritual while only a few thousand, worldwide, actually participate. Jehovah’s Witnesses hold that only 144,000 faithful Christians can be a part of the new covenant that Jesus spoke of during the Passover meal, and that of those, only a few thousand in this generation may partake in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Evening Meal. Other Jehovah’s Witnesses attend the Meal as observers. (Read more at

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Categories: Jehovah's Witness

Palm Sunday and Holy Week: Christians repent during final days of Lent

Jesus on cross in shadow and monochrome

Photo by Jes, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, APRIL 13: Western and Eastern Palm Sunday—In Western Christian tradition, Lent continues into Holy Week and Palm Sunday marks the ironic celebration of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion; but in Eastern tradition, Great Lent is over and Holy Week begins with the Great Feast of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

THURSDAY, APRIL 17: Western and Eastern Holy Thursday (in some traditions “Maundy Thursday”)—Both East and West recall Jesus’s Last Supper, but use different terms to describe elements of this day. For Western Christians, for example, talk about this day ushering in the Triduum, or “three days” of Easter.

FRIDAY, APRIL 18: Western Good Friday; Eastern Great and Holy Friday.
Both traditions mourn Jesus’s death on the cross, but with distinctive rituals. Eastern Christians will see the removal of an iconic representation of Jesus’s body from a cross in the church; Western Christians typically follow the Stations of the Cross (artistic representations of Jesus’s final days on earth) on Good Friday.

SATURDAY, APRIL 19: Western Holy Saturday; Eastern Great and Holy Saturday. In Eastern and Western traditions, Holy Saturday is a period of waiting for Easter (or Pascha in Eastern churches). While some Western Christians celebrate Easter with a Mass on “Saturday night;” ancient Eastern liturgies focus much more extensively on the Saturday night vigil, followed by a huge celebration of Pascha after midnight that same night. Across the United States, millions of Americans will mark Easter on the morning Sunday April 20; but many Eastern Christians will be at home that morning after a long night of liturgies.


Palm fronds growing wild

Palm fronds. Photo by Les Chatfield, courtesy of Flickr

Palm Sunday and Easter both draw big crowds in churches coast to coast and, for most Americans, Palm Sunday is marked with palm fronds distributed to recall the crowds that waved branches on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

All four Gospels detail Jesus’ entry into the holy city. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, people swarmed his path and laid their garments and palm branches on the roadway. (Wikipedia has many more details.)

During the Catholic Mass on this holiday, palms—or the branches of available trees, given the church’s location and climate—are blessed, and a procession of congregation members takes place.

After leaving church, the faithful bring their blessed palm fronds home and, as is custom, hang them near crucifixes or holy pictures. In Italy and Mexico, pride is taken in the art of braiding and shaping palm fronds into stunning figures and shapes. (Fold palms into the shape of a cross with help from this YouTube video. Advanced weavers can check out this video, as well.) In most regions of the world, these carefully saved palm branches will remain intact until the following year’s Ash Wednesday—at which time Christian tradition holds that old palm branches should be burned to make ashes.

For the three days of Holy Week preceding the Holy Triduum, houses are cleaned to make time for the proper observation of the quickly approaching Passion and Resurrection.


Priest bent over, washing feet of people sitting in a line of chairs

The term Maundy derives from the Latin ‘to command,’ referring to Jesus’ command to the disciples that they love one another, announced when he washed their feet. Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

According to Christian tradition, the Last Supper that Jesus held on this night before his death was the establishment of the Eucharist—the foundation of the Christian sacrament shared by more than 2 billion Christians around the world. Even though specific liturgical customs do vary between the branches of this worldwide faith, the basic sacred tradition stems from the Gospel verses describing Jesus’s last meal with his followers. The New Testament also describes Jesus washing the feet of his followers on this night, so foot washing also widely practiced on Maundy or Holy Thursday.

What does Maundy mean? Wikipedia has an extensive article about the use of this term, which varies widely country by country. Some denominations prefer the term for this Thursday; some never use it—and others use the terms Maundy and Holy interchangeably. Confusing? Yes, it certainly is. But you’ll have a great bit of trivia to share with friends and family if you know what “Maundy” means. According to Wikipedia’s summary:

Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy is derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:34 by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.

As Jesus and his disciples left their upper room, they traveled out of the Old City of Jerusalem and to the Garden of Gethsemane. Before sunrise, Jesus would be betrayed and the events of Good Friday would begin.

Each Maundy Thursday in the Catholic church, a daytime Chrism Mass takes place and a new stock of holy oil is blessed. Following the evening liturgy, the holy water is removed from all stoups—and all hangings and vestments are changed to black (or another Lenten color). Bells will remain silent until Saturday evening’s Easter Vigil.


Three crucifixes stand with three actors hanging from them, portraying the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. A crowd watches

A Passion play, reenacting the crucifixion, takes place in Trafalgar Square on Good Friday. Photo courtesy of

The day laden with darkness and lamentation has arrived, as Christians recall the somber events of Good Friday—Jesus’s death on a Roman cross. Between two criminals sentenced to death by Roman authorities, Jesus hung on a crucifix for six excruciating hours. During the last three hours, Gospels account that darkness fell over the land; at approximately 3 p.m., Jesus gave up his spirit and died. Such dramatic natural events occurred that the centurion on guard at the site of the crucifixion announced, “Truly this was God’s Son!”

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a strict fast day: only one full meal or two small meals is permitted, and the faithful abstain from meat and joyful activities. Many gather at church to pray the Stations of the Cross, painfully recalling each step on Jesus’ path to the crucifixion site. Some devotees attend a prayer service known as the Three Hours’ Agony, and it’s not uncommon for Passion plays and processions to reenact the day’s events. (Wikipedia has details.) In Rome, the Pope or Vatican representatives will lead meditations on the Stations of the Cross while a crucifix is carried to the Colosseum. Good Friday is a public or government holiday in many countries of the world, and the stock market is closed.

By tradition dating to 1361 CE, currant-filled, glazed hot cross buns are eaten for breakfast on Good Friday morning. The glaze forms a cross on the bun, signifying the day’s focus. (You can find a wonderful hot cross bun recipe in Lynne Meredith Golodner’s book The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.)


A candle burns in a dimly lit cathedral

A candle burns at St. Anne’s Church in Krakow on Holy Saturday. Photo by Marcin Bunsch, courtesy of Flickr

Terms and traditions for this Saturday vary widely across Christianity. For millions of American Protestants, this Saturday is simply a good occasion to clean the house and prepare treats for Easter dinner. Very little is said about this day in the vast majority of mainline Protestant and evangelical churches. However, Holy Saturday liturgies are ancient traditions in the Catholic church, Orthodox churches and others around the world.

In the Gospel stories, Holy Saturday recalls Jesus’s body laying in a tomb. Wikipedia’s account of Holy Saturday points out that this occasion is known by many names, including: Holy Saturday, the Great Sabbath, Black Saturday, Easter Eve, Joyous Saturday and the Saturday of Light.

In Eastern tradition, one of the most beautiful and unusual of icons is used in Saturday liturgies, called the Epitaphios. This icon is made of fabric and represents a kind of burial shroud, showing Jesus’s body being prepared for burial. On “Great and Holy Saturday,” the Epitaphios is carried in a procession around the church.

American holiday travelers always watch headlines about possible congestion or delays, as the Easter holiday approaches. But travel challenges may be even greater in the Philippines, where the population is more than 80 percent Roman Catholic. Headlines in Filipino newspapers began reporting, weeks early, on efforts to make the holiday migration to hometowns move smoothly. One of the big efforts in Manila this year involves inspecting the safety and cleanliness of the bus fleets that soon will be packed with holiday travelers.

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Categories: ChristianInternational Observances

Rama Navami: Honoring the birthday of India’s Rama

Lord Rama and his wife

Lord Rama and his wife Sita in an image widely seen in India at this time of year.

TUESDAY, APRIL 8: For more than a week, starting with the Hindu new year Ugadi, families across India celebrate the April 8 birthday of Lord Rama. Hindu descriptions of Rama vary, but he generally is described as a divine of Vishnu, the supreme deity in Hinduism. Lord Rama certainly is one of the most popular deities in India and his annual festival is a time for recalling ancient Indian stories about him.

The Ramayana, or Rama’s Journey, is one of the greatest masterpieces in world literature—and a great epic in India’s sacred traditions. Written down in sanskrit about 2,500 years ago, the Ramayana is made up of 24,000 verses. Lengthy readings and recitations from the epic are a beloved part of this season each year.

Inspiring readings, decorations and fasting are traditional preparations for the birthday on April 8, this year. While Rama’s story is not widely known in the U.S., his image is echoed in other Asian cultures and also reportedly was an inspiration for the blue figures in James Cameron’s 2009 movie, Avatar.

Care to dig further into the vast riches of the Ramayana? Wikipedia has a fairly extensive introduction to the epic.

Observances vary widely by region. This year, The Hindu newspaper reported on one center in  Coimbatore, a city in southern India, where an 18-day celebration of Rama Navmi is underway! If you live near an Indian temple in the West, you are likely to see local Hindu communities planning all-day services for this special period of the year.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaUncategorized

Qing Ming: Chinese on the move to honor ancestors

QING MING traffic jams are not a modern development! This detail comes from a much larger Chinese mural of a Qing Ming festival as men and women fill the streets and waterways.

QING MING traffic jams are not a modern development! This detail comes from a much larger, thousand-year-old Chinese mural of a Qing Ming festival as men and women fill the streets and waterways.

SATURDAY, APRIL 5: English spellings of the holiday vary, but newspapers in Asia are clear in reporting the most important news at this time of year: Watch out for traffic congestion and travel safely! Huge numbers of Chinese families are heading home to reconnect with their families and honor their ancestors at this time of year.

In the past, other English phrases have been used to describe this holiday: Wikipedia’s entry lists many names, including the Clear Bright Festival and Grave Sweeping or Grave Tending Day. The scale of annual ceremonies honoring ancestors has grown to elaborate heights in some eras—and shrunk in others—over many centuries. Chinese writers claim that the annual observance has continued in various forms for nearly 3,000 years!

Today, popular springtime customs associated with Qing Ming include kite flying, time spent with family, picnics and other outdoor gatherings near sites associated with ancestors. As spring flowers are blooming, many enjoy the sights and smells. Chinese news media already are featuring photos of families enjoying flowering trees in parks.

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Categories: Faiths of East Asia