Holy Week and Passover: An Overview
Learn about the historical roots and modern day observances of these major religious holidays.
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Christians around the world celebrate Holy Week, a series of holidays that lead up to Easter. The same week is important for Jews across the globe who are celebrating Passover. From major gatherings to small family traditions, billions of people mark these religious holidays every year.
Holy Week Holidays
Easter, which falls on a Sunday, marks the end of Holy Week, and one of the most sacred religious holidays in Christianity. Easter commemorates the resurrection, or rising from the dead, of Jesus Christ. The week leading up to Easter includes Palm Sunday, Maundy (or Holy) Thursday, and Good Friday. Each of these days represents one part of the week before Jesus was crucified in the first century.
Palm Sunday marks the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. As he rode into the holy city, he was greeted with a parade of palms. Many church communities celebrate Palm Sunday by re-creating the small march of palms or other plant branches. Good Friday is a more mournful day, which marks the day when Jesus was crucified. The story of Jesus says that on Easter Sunday, he rose to heaven.
Easter also marks the end of Lent, the forty days of preparation for Holy Week. Lent represents the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness before coming to Jerusalem. Many Christians observe Lent by giving up a particular food (like sweets).
Besides the major religious observances, many communities treat Easter as a time to come together and participate in family traditions. Towns and churches all across the country organize Easter egg hunts where children can search parks or neighborhoods for brightly colored eggs.
The President and First Lady host an annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House. This event has happened almost every year for more than a century.
Every year, Holy Week falls at the same time as the Jewish celebration of Passover, a holiday commemorating the Jewish Exodus from Egypt after being freed from slavery. The story tells of how Moses led the Jews out of slavery, across the desert for 40 years, and finally to the Promised Land, home of modern-day Israel. The holiday, which began Monday night at sundown, lasts eight days.
Traditionally, Jews refrain from eating leavened bread or almost any grain product during the eight days of Passover. The story of the Exodus from Egypt tells of how the fleeing slaves did not have time to let the bread they were baking rise. Today, Jews recall the fast exit from Egypt by eating matzo, a flat bread made from flour and water. The first two nights of Passover are marked by two seders, or festive meals, usually with family and friends.
One Week, Two Holidays
Both holidays fall together each year because their dates are based on a lunar calendar, or a calendar based on the orbit of the moon, rather than the sun. The regular calendar with months January through December is a solar, or sun-based calendar.
Critical Thinking Question
What holidays does your family celebrate? What are some of your traditions?
This article was originally published by Scholastic News on April 6, 2007. It was updated on April 30, 2013.