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Easter on the Mission Field: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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Written by Mayra Palomino

Easter is just around the corner, and if we were to take a take a trip around the world on this day, we’d find variety of different celebrations taking place. In certain countries you may find Easter bunnies and flying bells bringing sweets to little children, but in other locations, you will discover frightening deviations of how to some Christians remember the death and resurrection of Christ.

As missionaries, it is important to be aware of the different ways people celebrate holidays worldwide, in particular ones like Easter.

Here is a look into how places around the world celebrate this day.

South America

Being rooted in heavy Roman Catholicism, Easter (Known as Pascua in South America) revolves around Catholic tradition. ‘Semana Santa’ which translates into, ‘Holy Week’ kicks off on Palm Sunday. Numbers of Catholic believers gather together, bringing palms into churches, and have them blessed and washed over with holy water. From Monday to Wednesday of Holy Week, individuals are encouraged to step into a fast from red meats, avoid alcohol, and not partake in party celebrations.

Maundy Thursday is what is known in most South America as ‘El Dia de los Monumentos’ which can translate into ‘The Day of the Monuments’ or ‘The Day of the Saints’. During this day, individuals visit different churches in their towns, admiring the architectural and sculptural beauty of cathedrals, churches, and raising prayers to the saints. The fast from red meats is broken on Thursday, and sweets are eaten to celebrate.

As most Roman Catholic nations, Good Friday is filled with processions that reenact the stages of the cross. Saturday is what is known as ‘El Dia de Dolores’ (The Day of Sorrows), where members of the catholic church commemorate Mary’s sorrow after her Son’s death on the cross. Semana Santa, comes to an end on Resurrection Sunday, known as ‘El Domingo de Resurreccion’, where Catholic masses are filled with families seeking to pay remembrance to Christ on this important day for the Catholic faith.

Azerbaijan

During Easter, Azerbaijan celebrates an ancient Persian holiday known as ‘Novruz’. It begins on the spring Equinox (March 20 or 21). The four Tuesdays leading up to this holiday are used to celebrate one of the four elements: water, which symbolizes renewal, fire, which symbolizes rebirth, earth, which symbolizes revival, and wind, which symbolizes the arrival of spring.

Novruz is considered a family holiday, where like Easter in the USA, individuals paint eggs to celebrate. Other ways that individuals celebrate this holiday is by planting trees, visiting the graves of relatives, and honoring the Zoroastrian fire god by building small bonfires in the streets.

Philippines

Like South America, Easter in Philippines is influenced by their roots in Roman Catholicism. They celebrate Palm Sunday, but Easter does not officially begin until Thursday. Re-enactments of the Passion take place around the country and individuals reflect on what took place on this day. In parts of the Philippines, re-enactments of the Passion are taken a step further, and individuals who take the role of Jesus have their hands nailed to a cross. Penance whippings also take place in the crowds of Passion plays. Adding to this, Philippines holds a superstition where it is believed that Jesus dies every Good Friday, so accidents on this day are feared because it is believed that salvation cannot be achieved on this day, making individuals behave very carefully on this day.

France

In France, Easter is known as Paques. During Good Friday, the bells of the churches are silenced as a recognition of the death of Jesus. It is believed that between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, bells fly to the city of Rome to be blessed by the Pope, and on their way back from their journey, they leave treats for the children.

The french hold an interesting story for the role of eggs during Easter: On her way to the tomb of Jesus, Mary Magdalene was carrying a basket of cooked eggs to bring to the other women at the tomb. It is said that when she saw the risen Christ, the eggs in the basket turned red, in memory of His blood shed at the crucifixion.

Mexico and Brazil

Like in South America, Easter in Mexico is known as Pascua, and in Brazil it holds the name Pascoa. Easter is celebrated in a similar manner to the rest of South America, but carries an additional event: the hanging of Judas on the Saturday of Holy Week. To commemorate this event in Mexico, they burn a dummy who symbolizes Judas, and in Brazil they hang the dummies in the streets, often placing the face of corrupt political leaders for a more comical outlook on the tradition.

Argentina

Argentina is home to one of the ‘religious’ theme parks around the world. Tierra Santa, the theme park, whose name translates into ‘The Holy Land’, raises up a large plastic statue of Jesus during Resurrection Sunday to commemorate the resurrection of Christ. Individuals in Argentina travel from all around to  witness the iconic event.

Bermuda

On Good Friday, families in Bermuda celebrate by creating and flying homemade kites. It is believed that this celebration became popular in Bermuda because of a missionary teacher who was having trouble explaining the Ascension of Christ to children. He made a cross-shaped kite to illustrate the Ascension to his class, and the idea became popularized to this day.

How do you celebrate this holiday? What would you say is the strangest Easter tradition around the world? How would you bring the truth of the gospel into these different celebrations?

Comment below and let us know what you think. Have a beautiful Good Friday, and a Happy Easter.

“Remember, Holy Week is about the resurrection, and the Resurrection should be seen as the highest day for the Christian faith. I think that we should go out of our way to make the best and most special day.”
—Paul Hartford, Vice President of Academic Affairs at BGU

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