As Orthodox Christians, some of us adults never get truly used to the calendar separation for Easter – and some adults end up becoming just as confused! Of course, those of us who have family generations of Orthodox families who shrug their shoulders and tell you it’s no big deal have probably been no help to you. But this post isn’t for those types of people. No, this post is for those Orthodox Christians that struggle with mixed interfaith celebrations, conflicted with Easter Egg hunts and the Easter Bunny myth and those in general who have a habit of feeling lost or unmotivated every year by the calendar separation that sets us apart a week or sometimes by a month.
This post is also especially devoted to helping you to explain the feast day to your children. As anyone who has helped raise children before is fully aware that children ask a lot of questions – curious questions, thoughtful questions, silly questions, but questions nonetheless. They aren’t doing it to be obnoxious, besides that voice in the back of your head trying to tell you otherwise, but they are trying to learn about themselves and the life around them! At the very least, you brought them into this life, don’t you think you should help them to gain an understanding of it?
Here are some common myths debunked to help you understand the calendar separation and how you can prepare yourself and your children.
- Myth #1 – Orthodox Easter must precede Passover
This is true to the very small extent that Orthodox Easter usually shows up on the calendar after Passover – but it’s mostly an urban legend. That legend came into play by John Zonaras, simply by noticing that Pascha used to always follow Passover. The Passover feast is also more than one day.
It was the decision from the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD that has established when Easter should be celebrated. The Orthodox simply wished to keep a unique formula that was in line with early Church teaching and the Biblical sequence of events.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII instituted a reform of the traditional Julian calendar that was more astronomically correct. Many Western churches, such as the Catholic church, adopted this calendar. Only the Orthodox church vigorously opposed it.
How to explain the calendar difference to children? For young children, you can tell them you simply just celebrate Easter on different days. Not everyone in the world celebrates Easter. Tell them that even though we fast and celebrate later, we go to grandma and grandparent’s house because we love them and want to celebrate with them. As your children become older, or ask why, be truthful and say Pascha is the first Sunday after the Full Moon after April 3rd, or it usually follows one or five weeks later as we observe the Gregorian calendar.
- Myth #2: How do we tell our non-Orthodox relatives and friends we’re fasting?
You don’t. Don’t refuse to celebrate with your family or refuse an important family invitation, because it only causes bad feelings. You don’t even have to tell anyone and everyone you’re fasting. This doesn’t give you permission to have a steak or miserably eat a salad at a steakhouse but be sensible. This is where the hospitality rule comes into play where you accept your invitation with grace and dine with modesty. This is when breaking the fast is acceptable because there’s humility in accepting what you’re given with a grace and a sincere heart.
If the host allows it, ask to bring a delicious vegan, favorite meal. Vegan cuisine has become so incredibly widespread and diverse that there’s so much more than salads and soups to enjoy. I am not suggesting you promote veganism though I can guarantee rave reviews!
- Myth #3: Don’t call it Easter. Call it Pascha.
There’s no right or wrong way, as they both mean the same thing, but we prefer Pascha. Not to be confused with Paska bread, as it’s pronounced the same way. Plus, I think the more you refer to the holiday as Easter around children, the more they will think they’re celebrating Easter. And then you’ll have to explain the Easter Bunny, colored eggs, easter egg hunts, chocolates, peeps and Easter isn’t a second Christmas where we should expect gifts. That’s where it gets confusing.
To the Orthodox, Pascha reveals the mystery of the eighth day. It is not a historical reenactment of Christ’s Resurrection. It is a way to experience the new creation of the world a taste of the new and unending day of the Kingdom of God.
- Myth #4: ….Don’t get us wrong, we still love colored eggs, chocolate and our marshmallow peeps!
We still celebrate with colored eggs, chocolate and enjoy a marshmallow peep or two or twelve but just in a different fashion! Eggs have huge meaning and was originally adopted by the Christian church in Mesopotamia, which stained eggs red in memory of the precious blood of Christ, regarding the red eggs as a symbol of the resurrection. . Red is also the color of life and victory. Most stories also link Mary Magdalene to the red egg custom. Egg dying usually is a tradition reserved for Holy Thursday, as this is a period when mourning begins. Some Orthodox women will even do pysanky, which are intricate designs on the egg.
As for chocolate and marshmallow peeps, yes…we still eat plenty of those.
- Myth #5: Good Friday is observed strictly.
Not so much of a myth. As it is our day of mourning, Good Friday is observed strictly as best as we are able to. In traditional Orthodox custom, it is the only day of the year where the Divine Liturgy is not read, flags are hung at half mast and church bells ring all day in a mournful tone. No work (even cooking) is performed on this day. Meals are kept very simple, perhaps boiled in water or seasoned with vinegar and woman and children take flowers to church to decorate the grave. During Lamentations, The image of Christ, is carried on the shoulders of the faithful in a procession throughout the community to the cemetary, and back. Parishioners follow in a candlelit procession. Obviously,to this day in age, even the fast is observed as best as we are able to on this day.
- Myth #5: No cooking until Holy Saturday.
That’s right..well from Good Friday until Holy Saturday.. It is perfectly fine to start your cooking for the next day’s feast in the morning. You’ll probably be hungry anyway!
- Myth #6: Most Orthodox don’t respond back to the Easter greetings on the night of Pascha because they are fighting to stay awake.
Partially true. Some people just cannot stay up late like children, but Pascha is the most joyous time of year.After the Eternal Flame, the light of the Resurrection, is lit on the altar and the light is shared all around the church, the priest screams “Christ is Risen!” and we say, “Indeed he is Risen!” and he will then go onto screaming this in a few other languages. It is not important to be able to respond back in all of the languages though it helps.
The midnight service is often a long one so some people simply cannot stay up late anymore, preferably the very old or the very young. To fix this, many churches have an earlier basket blessing that day which I encourage older relatives to participate in. Your basket will be blessed but as there’s no service, you cannot partake in your Easter goodies, until the Paschal feast held during the next day. Children can do okay at the midnight service but I encourage bringing a blanket and a pillow so they can nod off if they want to. Nice, but comfortable dress clothes are also encouraged and also tell them not to grow up so fast because mom and dad no longer get that privilege!
- Myth #7: We don’t get video games in our Easter baskets, but Easter dinner!
…which is still very good! We don’t go around making deals with the Easter bunny to put toys and games inside our childrens Easter baskets. If anything, however, we should encourage small, but modest Easter baskets consisting of chocolates and educational toys. The highlight is mom and dad’s basket, which does not get filled with toys and games either.Sorry, sorry, sorry. I just wanted to make everything clear.
One basket per family is brought to church and is usually made up of traditional foods you fasted on all throughout your Lent pertaining to your heritage. For example, a traditional Russian Orthodox basket would include paska bread, hrutka, a butter lamb, kielbasa, ham, salt, pepper, horseradish. Some people may not like all of that food or, like myself, even eat meat on a regular basis. The idea is to also put something in your basket that you fasted on during Lent. After the blessing of baskets, you are encouraged to stick around and share your basket with some of the other Orthodox parishioners! Done well, this usually turns into a joyous feast that lasts hours into the night. After all, it’s a party and the one you anticipate throughout the year.
- Myth #8: My son/daughter loves the Easter Bunny and wishes he didn’t have to hop away so soon!
As much as I don’t like to be the buzzkill, I believe in being honest too. The Easter bunny has little or no baring on how we celebrate ours and buying a rabbit for a small child isn’t a good idea. Bunnies may be cute and they might be an easy impulse buy because of the sale price in the window, but domestic rabbits are also live animals taken from families of their own. They require a lot of care and often need to see a special type of vet. It will be almost like taking care of a dog or cat because they can be house trained and are encouraged to be spayed/neutered because males spay when they reach sexual maturity. They don’t like to be held though and sleep for most of the day. They are most active at dawn and dusk.
This is just a disclaimer of what you can expect if you’re thinking of buying your child a pet rabbit. It is not meant to discourage you. Rabbits aren’t toys or inanimate objects, these are live animals who live and breathe and exist in the world like a dog or cat and in some ways, like us. If a rabbit doesn’t seem to be in the cards for your family but your child really wants one, try consider buying them the stuffed rabbit (like the stuffed Velveteen Rabbit and book here) which they can hold while you read them the Velveteen Rabbit. A little knowledge never hurt anyone.