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Easter in Northern Ireland

With longer days and signs of spring, there are many events to enjoy around Northern Ireland this Easter. Sentry Hill, just outside Belfast, is organising craft and activities to entertain children and parents, including an egg and spoon race. Over Easter, Belfast Zoo is introducing the new born additions in the Zoo family. Learn about the young and their eating habits. Join the Golden Egg Trail at Mount Stewart or take part in the Easter events at The Argory, Florence Court, Castle Coole, Castle Ward and Springhill. Town and city councils have organised fun days, inviting families to search for and claim chocolate treasure. The Easter bunny will lead the parade in Bangor, bestowing chocolate gifts on deserving children.

How will you spend Easter? A time to catch up with friends and family with a picnic or an outdoor expedition to roll hard-boiled eggs down a hill? Will you be leaving a trail of chocolate eggs to delight children? Is it only a short holiday which breaks the long stretch between Christmas and summer? Another commercial spending spree where chocolate and flowers are the expected gifts?
Why do we celebrate Easter?

Easter is a Christian Movable Feast which occurs on a Sunday after 21 March and before 25 April each year. It is the most important event in the Christian calendar, commemorating Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. For Christians, Easter concludes six weeks of Lent, a time of fasting, penance and reflection. Before the advance of Christianity, spring celebrations occurred at this time to mark pagan festivals of new life and fertility.

Easter is derived from the name of the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, Aostre. Her festival was celebrated after winter, signifying a time of rebirth and new life. In other European countries, Easter is a variation on the word Pesach, from the Hebrew festival of Passover. This Jewish religious festival usually occurs around the same time as Easter.

In an increasingly secular, commercial world where restraint is unknown, today Lent is often ignored in public, and observed only by Christians as a personal choice. When Lent meant a strict fast, it was a long season when eggs and meat were not eaten. Easter was celebrated by wearing colourful bonnets, and enjoying foods such as lamb and eggs which had been denied for six weeks. Since the fifteenth century Hot Cross buns were baked in England to be eaten on Good Friday. These spiced buns depict a white cross, reminding the faithful of the Crucifixion. Queen Elizabeth I once tried to ban Hot Cross Buns but the law proved too difficult to apply and this baking tradition continues today.

In the twenty first century, chocolate eggs, Easter chicks and rabbits and lilies are all popular. Some children believe that the kind Easter rabbit or bunny leaves a trail of eggs to be uncovered and enjoyed. The rabbit was originally a pagan symbol of fertility. Eggs and chicks were significant in representing birth and new life in spring. The Easter lily represents purity, life and renewal. Early Christians believed that the lily began to grow in the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ shed blood and tears. Good Friday was once known as God’s Friday, calling to mind the day when Christ died.

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