A Byzantine painting from the year 1315

<This is an updated version of a posting from April 2009.>

Yuji, a young Japanese man, asks his American friend Dane about spring holidays.

Yuji: Do you have cherry blossom parties in America?

Dane: Only in a few places?

Yuji: A few places? Like where?

Dane: The most famous is along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C.

Yuji: Yes, I know. We gave you those trees over a hundred years ago.

Dane: That was because Teddy Roosevelt helped end Japan’s war with Russia.

Yuji: Right. So, where are the other sakura spots?

Dane: There are some cherry blossom parks in New Jersey and in Georgia, but I’ve never seen them.

Yuji: So how do you celebrate the coming of spring ?

Dane: Most Americans welcome spring by celebrating Easter.

Yuji: Easter? What’s that?

Dane: It’s a holiday, the day Christians believe Jesus came back to life.

Yuji: Back to life? How did he die?

Dane: The Romans killed him.

Yuji: Why did they kill him?

Dane: Because a Jewish court said he was guilty of pretending to be the son of God.

Yuji: But I thought Jesus was a God.

Dane: No he isn’t a God. That would mean there is more than one god. The Christians believe he is the Son of God, but the Jews don’t think so.

Yuji: So the Jews and Christians were enemies.

Dane: Not then. Actually, Jesus was a Jew.  But he taught some new ideas and he wanted to reform the religion. The old priests didn’t like that too much.

Yuji: You mean like the way Prime Minister Koizumi tried to reform the Japanese government?

Dane: Something like that. But they didn’t crucify Koizumi.

Yuji: Crucify?

Dane: Nail him to a cross.

Yuji: That’s terrible. They used the Christian symbol to kill Jesus?!

Dane: Crucifixion was the common way to execute criminals in those days. There was no Christian religion then. They started using the cross as a symbol later on because that’s how Jesus died.

Yuji: So, when did Christianity become a religion?

Dane: Not until after he died, came back to life for 40 days, and finally went up to heaven.

Yuji: I’m confused. When did Jesus die?

Dane: On the Friday after the first full moon of spring sometime between 27 AD and 35 AD. Easter is the following Sunday. The date changes every year. It’s based on the old lunar calendar. This year it’s on March 27th.

Yuji: I see, like the old Japanese calendar. But why do they call it Easter?

Dane: English speaking countries and the Germans call it Easter or Ostern. Most other Christian countries call the holiday some form of the Latin word Pascha.

Yuji: What does Pascha mean?

Dane: It means Passover. That’s the Jewish holiday celebrating the Jews exodus out of Egypt. Jesus went to Jerusalem and was captured during that holiday week.

Yuji: And Easter? Where does that name come from?

Dane: Easter or Oster was the name of the Nordic Goddess of Sunlight and Fertility.

Yuji: Sun Goddess?  Just like our Amaterasu. But what’s fertility?

Dane: The ability to make things grow — like babies; so it seems a little odd to me that the English and Germans decided kept the name of the Pagan goddess for their holiest Christian day.

Yuji: Well, I think sunlight and sex are good themes for a spring festival. It sounds very romantic.

Dane: No, Easter is not romantic. Valentines’ Day is. Easter is more serious, but it’s a fun day too.

Yuji: What kind of fun?

Dane: The Easter Bunny comes.

Yuji: What’s the Easter Bunny?

Dane: The Easter Bunny is a rabbit who brings goodies to kids; decorated eggs and chocolate eggs, chickens and bunnies.

Yuji: Why eggs, chickens and rabbits?

Dane: They are all symbols of fertility. In fact, the Goddess Easter had a pet rabbit for the same reason. Just before Easter Sunday families color and decorate hard boiled eggs. Then the Easter Bunny hides them and adds the chocolate candies for the kids to find on Easter morning.

Yuji: For breakfast?

Dane: No. The kids have fun hunting for them outside, if the weather is good.  Churches and other places have community Easter Egg hunts too.  Even the president has one at the White House for kids who are lucky enough to get an invitation.

Yuji: That sounds great for little kids, but what do adults do for Easter fun?

Dane: We have picnics, if the weather is good.  And then there’s the Easter Parade.

Yuji: Like the Thanksgiving parade?

Dane: Not exactly.  It became famous in New York over a hundred years ago.  People got dressed up in their fancy new spring clothes and walked up and down 5th Avenue.

Yuji: That’s all?  You can see that in Harajuku every Sunday.

Dane: Well, it’s a little more than that. The highlight in the old days was the women’s gorgeous hats. These days people wear crazy home-made hats to show off in the parade.

Yuji: OK. But Japanese don’t care much for hats. Food is our big thing. Tell me about the food,  do you have a special Easter feast after the parade?

Dane: Yes, but for most people there’s no real traditional menu like with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yuji: Well, Easter sounds like fun, but I’m not a Christian, I don’t like eggs and I’m not crazy about chocolate.  So, I think I prefer our Hanami parties; beautiful blossoms, delicious food and strong sake.

Dane: I can well appreciate that!