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Ancient Springtime Celebrations

   Long before Jesus walked on the earth, people celebrated when spring arrived. Many of Easter's interesting and often unusual customs began hundreds, even thousands of years ago during the spring! In ancient times, people did not know why the seasons changed. They thought spirits or gods and goddesses guided the times of the seasons. Some even thought the sun died when winter came! When spring arrived, they were happy to see plants blooming, animals coming out of hibernation, and birds returning from far away. These ancient people expressed their joy in the arrival of spring with many different celebrations.
   The Celts lived in what is now the greater part of western Europe, mainly from 2000 B.C. to 100 B.C. Their religion was called Druidism, and they believed in good and evil spirits. These prehistoric people thought that winter came when evil spirits captured the sun god. When spring began each year, the Celts lit huge bonfires, hoping to frighten the evil spirits into releasing the sun. In some countries today, such as Germany ,Belgium and Russia, bonfires are still a part of Easter celebrations. The use of a large candle in Easter services today is also traced to these ancient customs.

  The ancient Greeks believed that gods and goddesses were in charge of the earth. A Greek story says the goddess Demeter's daughter was kidnapped while picking flowers and afterward was allowed to visit her mother only during the spring and summer. When each spring arrived, the Greeks believed Demeter's happiness made the flowers bloom. They thought her sadness caused winter to return when her daughter went away again. The daughter was said to have been picking narcissus when she was captured, so it became a flower of special meaning to the Greeks. In many parts of the world, the narcissus, with its bright and fragrant blossoms, has long been a favorite Easter flower.

   In ancient Rome, people also thought that a goddess made the flowers bloom. They called her Flora and held the Festival of Floralia . to honor her each spring. During this time, Romans held big parades and carried garlands of blossoms through the streets where statues of Flora were lavishly decorated with flowers.

In ancient Egypt, the Hebrews were kept as slaves, so God sent Moses to free them. When the ruler, Pharoah, would not let the Hebrews go, God punished Egypt in many ways. He finally sent the Angel of Death to destroy the firstborn in each family-but first He told the Hebrews to make a special lamb offering, and the angel would pass over their homes.

   This first Passover is commemorated each year by members of the Jewish faith, about March 21. For many years, Easter was celebrated at this same time because Jesus was crucified during Passover.

   In A.D. 325, a group of men meeting in Nicaea, a city in what we now call Turkey, decided that Easter should be on a different day. They chose the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Vernal means "spring," and equinox means "equal night." Thus, this is the one 24-hour period in the spring when both day and night last exactly twelve hours, usually on March 21 or 22.

   Full moons, however, do not always come on the same date, so Easter may fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25. Sometimes it comes before Passover, and many Orthodox or Eastern Christians wait until Passover to celebrate Easter.

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