How the military observes Easter depends a great deal on where the observations are being held; while it is tempting to think of the Easter holiday as a primarily western tradition, celebrations during this time have been observed by Christian, Jewish, Pagan, and many other belief systems.
Easter will be celebrated on Sunday, April 21, 2019.
How Does The Military Celebrate Easter?
Easter presents the same kind of awareness of the sacrifices made by those in uniform and their families, but this particular holiday isn’t celebrated as long or with the same degree of intensity in military communities; that’s not to say Easter isn’t taken as seriously, but observations of this holiday tend to be more “base-level” and held among individual communities.
Some examples of base-level Easter events include Morale Welfare And Recreation (MWR) activities like Easter Egg hunts, fun runs and fitness challenges, concerts, and services conducted by the base Chaplain or Chaplain’s Office. Some events are arranged along denominational lines, others may be interfaith gatherings that welcome all comers.
Those who observe Easter at forward deployed locations often do it in the context of their deployment; the holiday is used to remember both the traditional meaning of the holiday and loved ones back home.
There are many ways to observe the Easter holiday-you’ll find military communities participating in many of the following traditions:
- Easter egg painting
- Easter egg hunts
- Church services including “passion plays” and reenactments of religious stories
- Sports events, Easter fundraisers, and charity drives
- Base-level events including interfaith gatherings, worship services, etc.
- Annual charity events
Some private and non-profit organizations sponsor Easter events specifically aimed at deployed troops; one organization offers to send a fully packaged Easter Egg Hunt to troops deployed overseas. Many organizations including the USO, Morale Welfare and Recreation, and AAFES all offer Easter-themed programs and events at military bases overseas.
Some military units celebrate Easter by holding their own fundraisers for Military Service Organizations such as the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. Others may observe the holiday by holding Easter traditions in unusual locations.
One 2016 military news item discussed an Easter baptism ceremony aboard the USS Harry S. Truman while on deployment in the Arabian Gulf. Another has sunrise Easter worship services open to the public aboard the USS Constitution, a decommissioned Navy warship that is a must-visit attraction along Boston’s Freedom Trail.
Celebrating Easter Overseas
Military members and their families stationed overseas find themselves learning new Easter customs; in Germany, eggs are hung from trees to symbolize Spring, emerging new life, and fertility. Another German Easter custom is “Green Thursday”, remembering the Christian story of The Last Supper.
Some Italian customs include lighting fireworks and at least one Italian town has a “day-after” celebration called Pasquetta that includes a competition requiring competitors to roll large wheels of cheese called Ruzzolone through the village.
These are traditions that military members can experience while taking part in local culture, the same way that those in uniform can experience Christmas villages and gift exchanges with citizens of their host countries in December.
Some countries do not have an Easter tradition; Japan is one of them in spite of having adopted other western or Christian holidays. Cherry blossom viewing season closest Easter gets to a similar time of celebration in that country; recent efforts to market the Easter holiday there have focused on pop-culture movements (such as Tokyo Disneyland’s “Disney Easter” held between April and June).
It’s estimated that more than one million Americans are deployed overseas, and most of them will not be home for Easter during that deployment (depending on circumstances, of course). That’s one reason why many take the time to learn local customs for celebrating this holiday and take part where they are stationed; it’s a connection to home in a sense, but also a way to further understand a host country.
Easter Care Packages for the Troops
Easter baskets are a popular care package to send to soldiers during this time.
Item ideas include:
- Picture of the family including with the Easter bunny
- Eggs with candy or loving messages
- Easter crafts and drawings from the kids
- Easter confetti, grass
- Easter dinner food e.g. canned or instant dinner items
- Peeps, Cadbury eggs, chocolate bunnies
- Camouflage eggs, baskets
- Easter care package from an online gift shop that ships APO/FPO/DPO
People can also donate money or supplies to the non-profit Military Connections to send “Easter Egg Hunts” to deployed service members.
Basic Origins of Easter
According to some sources, what we know today as Easter has its’ origins in the worship of the goddess Eostre according to the writings of an early Anglo Saxon historian, Saint Bede the Venerable (born 672, died 735). Eostre’s symbolism included a rabbit, and she was traditionally honored in early spring.
Another non-Christian group sometimes known as the Cybele cult held spring festivals beginning “as a day of blood on Black Friday, rising to a crescendo after three days, in rejoicing over the resurrection” of Cybele’s lover Attis (who was said to be born of a virgin) according to an article about pre-Christian Easter-type rites published by The Guardian. “There was violent conflict on Vatican Hill in the early days of Christianity between the Jesus worshippers and pagans who quarrelled over whose God was the true, and whose the imitation”.
The western tradition of Easter has its’ origins in the celebration of Passover; tradition has Jesus of Nazareth traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate it, creating a disturbance in the Jerusalem Temple that drew attention of the Roman authorities.
The event described in religious texts as The Last Supper is the precursor to Good Friday, where Jesus is said to be crucified, leading up to Easter Sunday which celebrates the idea of the resurrection of Christ. These events occur during Passover, and the two holidays are linked in this way, at least in the minds of western religious scholars and Christian historians.
When Is Easter?
Easter coincides with both Passover and the vernal equinox, and does not fall on a fixed date. This is what makes scholars call Easter a “moveable feast”, one that occurs on the first full moon following the equinox.
The appearance of the full moon will vary depending on location, so Easter is anchored to the 14th day of the lunar month for something known as the “Paschal Full Moon”; Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday following this full moon.
“Easter” is sometimes used as a catch-all for the entire weekend starting with Good Friday, which is often viewed as a holiday but is not given Federal Holiday or bank holiday treatment; banks, schools may or may not close depending on location. Stock markets are closed for this day, but mail and other federal services operate as usual.
Is The Easter Holiday Just One Weekend?
According to certain western and Christian religious traditions, Easter is a smaller part of a larger set of observances that can include some or all of the following:
- Ash Wednesday (observed 46 days before Easter Sunday)
- Palm Sunday (observed seven days before Easter Sunday)
- Good Friday (observed two days before Easter Sunday)
- Easter (observed on first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon on/after March 21)
- Ascension Day (observed 39 days after Easter Sunday)
- Whit Sunday – Pentecost (observed 49 days after Easter Sunday)
- Trinity Sunday (observed 56 days after Easter Sunday)
- First Sunday in Advent (observed on the fourth Sunday before Christmas)
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