Easter Sunday is the most important date in the Christian calendar as it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The days leading up to Easter Sunday are called Holy Week, and commemorate Jesus's betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion on Good Friday.
Put very simply, Christians believe that Christ sacrificed his life on the cross to atone for humanity's sins, and that his victory over death in his resurrection demonstrate God's power and the hope of eternal life for those who believe. We know from the Bible that Jesus's death and resurrection took place around the time of the Jewish festival of Passover, and because of this the names of Easter and Passover are similar in many languages - especially those with a Latin root such as French or Spanish. In English and German, however, Easter / Ostern seems to come from a more 'pagan' root, from a spring festival celebrating the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. This may explain why Easter features 'new life' and 'fertility' symbols such as bunnies and eggs.
The link to Passover also accounts for Easter being a 'moveable feast' with a date that changes according to the lunar calendar (as Passover does). And Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate it at a different date again, as their church calendar follows the Julian rather than the Gregorian calendar.
Easter also marks the end of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting where many Christians symbolically 'give up' something special (like chocolate!). So in many cultures special Easter foods are eaten, such as hot cross buns in Britain (traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but now available all year), kulich cake in Russia, a dove-shaped cake in Italy or biscuits flavoured with sesame seeds in Greece.
These websites explore more about the Easter story, and the different traditions involved in mourning Christ's death and celebrating his resurrection:
- BBC Religions - Christianity: Easter
- BBC Learning Zone Class Clips - The Story of Easter
- Wikipedia - Easter
You can also find some great pictures here:
See also the following publications for schools, available from RE Today: