The most important day of the annual Christian calendar: Easter, is not too far off. The path meant to be walked by many who follow this and related religious will soon travel through the 40 days of the Lenten season, arriving at Holy Week and culminating in the Easter celebration held in honor of the Resurrection of Christ and his Ascension into Heaven after having been dead and buried for three days following crucifixion.
While not everyone ascribes to the same religious beliefs and practices, there is no denying the fact that the arrival of spring is almost universally welcomed - if for no other reason than the sense of rebirth - of renewed life - it brings to mankind.
Christians have for centuries observed a period of inner reflection, repentance, and fasting during the 40 days of Lent, but religious requirements of this span of time today are far more relaxed than they were even a few years ago, say religious experts.
THE?LENTON?season will begin this Wednesday and Christians across the area will be observing the time in preparation for Easter which falls on April 24 this year. The above photo shows a stained glass window at the First Presbyterian Church in Martins Ferry.
Lent was originally observed for six weeks, excluding Sundays, but this was eventually extended in order to parallel Christ's temptation in the wilderness.
In the early history of the church, strict fasting was observed during this period. One meal was allowed per day, in the evening, and meat, fish, eggs, and butter were forbidden.
The strict nature of the observance of fasting at this time of year came to an end for Roman Catholics during WWII, and it is seldom observed throughout the Lenten Season today.
However, that is not to say there has been an end to such traditions.
"Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are still fast days for the Catholic Church and the emphasis on Lent as a period of penitence remains. Many Christians especially Catholics, choose to give up a single indulgence for the 40-day period as a sign of repentance and an exercise in self-control," say experts at www.religionfacts.com
The 40 day traditional observance of Lent begins annually on Ash Wednesday and ends - for Roman Catholics - at sundown on Holy Thursday with the beginning of the mass of the Lord's Supper.
Ash Wednesday has been an integral part of Christian observances connected to Easter since ancient times. Holy Week, which includes Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, is observed in the days immediately before the Easter Sunday celebration is held. It is followed by the 50 days of the Easter season which ends with the observance of Pentecost.
"All churches that have history extending back before AD 1500 observe Lent," noted an article authored by the Reverend Kenneth W. Collins.
Details of exactly how one religious group calculates the date of Easter and related events can vary from another, often due to the basic difference of whether or not Sundays are included in their calculations concerning the length of the Lenten season.
Preparing to exercise the self control many Christians ask of themselves during Lent is often tied to the so called "last-fling" practice; sometimes called Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or carnival.
In New Orleans, Mardi Gras begins early in January, on Epiphany, and ends on "Fat Tuesday" the day before Ash Wednesday.
The practice of eating fish on Fridays during lent is said to have begun largely in Ireland, according to www.yourirish.com
"In Ireland preparation for Easter usually starts on the first day of Lent, 40 days before Easter Sunday. From the first day of Lent Irish people would stop eating meat but would also quit something they cherished such as favorite food, alcohol, cigarettes and even television. During the 40 days of Lent fish would be eaten each Friday which is usually cooked in a soup. It's a time of self discipline and a reflection on what Irish people have to be thankful for but also a time for Irish families to me together."
Another of the Irish traditions dates back hundreds of years and gave rise to what is t It was a time to prepare the home to be blessed by the local priest.
Tradition in many countries, including Ireland, included not eating eggs during Lent. In many homes across Europe eggs would be presented to the family on Good Friday, but were not eaten until Easter Sunday. Eggs were often painted with different colors and carried various designs.
The Easter Eggs are always presented to children after their traditional Easter dinner and, according to tradition, can only be given to a child who has not broken the Lent fast and who has also finished eating a full Easter dinner - however parents today are often more flexible about children fasting.
One type of Easter egg not likely to make it into any average basket of candy would be the highly prized Faberge eggs.
These fabulous works of art can be enjoyed in museums and collections throughout the world, including in America.
The highly jeweled eggs were made by Peter Carl Faberge and his assistance between 1885 and 1917.
Their real connection of these creations to the religious holiday came when Faberge was commissioned by the Russian Czar to make a special Easter gift for his wife.
"The first Faberge egg was an egg within an egg. It had an outside shell of platinum and enameled while which opened to reveal a smaller gold egg. The smaller egg, in turn, opened to display a golden chicken and a jeweled replica of the Imperial crown. This special Faberge egg so delighted the Czarina that the Czar promptly ordered the Faberge firm to design further eggs to be delivered every Easter. In later years Nicholas II, Alexander's son, continued the custom," according to Faberge historians.
In all, fifty Imperial Faberge Easter eggs were made and presented to the Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II of Russia.
On a more modern American note: there are other traditions observed in and around Easter Sunday with roots solidly in the United States, including the annual White House Easter Egg Roll: which generally attracts some 30,000 people from all 50 states to the capitol's expansive lawn.
Loccisano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org