Easter in Australia
Stained Glass, Detail, Sheffield Window, All Saints Church, Canberra, 1958 orig. St Clements Church Attercliffe, Sheffield, 1917.
Easter commemorates the resurrection (return to life) of Jesus Christ following his death by crucifixion. It is the most significant event of the Christian calendar.
Easter, also known as Resurrection Day, is observed between late March and late April (early April to early May in Eastern Christianity). It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, which his followers believe occurred on the third day after his death by crucifixion. In the Roman Catholic Church, Easter is actually an eight-day feast called the Octave of Easter.
The Christian churches began Easter celebrations about 300 years after the death of Jesus Christ, however pagan Spring equinox festivals associated with birth, the renewal of life, fertility and sunrise date back long before Christianity. Many of the present-day customs of Easter have their origins in these festivals. The date on which Easter falls varies from year to year.
The Christian churches in Australia observe the Easter Christian Calendar which begins with Shrove Tuesday, some 40 days before Easter, and ends with Whitsun (or Pentecost) which is 50 days after Easter Sunday.
Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and is a day of mourning in church. During Good Friday services Christians meditate on Jesus's suffering and on his last words spoken from the cross: 'Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.' (New English Bible, Luke 22: 34)
Easter Sunday is the commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is celebrated with great enjoyment by Christians. Churches are usually filled with flowers and the celebrations include the singing of special hymns.
Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday because they were a dish that could use up perishable foodstuffs such as eggs, fats and milk, with just the addition of flour, prior to the beginning of the 40 days of fasting during Lent.
Many Australian groups and communities make and share pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Selling pancakes to raise money for charity is also a popular activity.
Hot Cross Buns
S. Saunders, Sel's hot cross buns. © Australian Antarctic Division 2006 Kingston Tasmania 7050. Courtesy of Australian Government Antarctic Division.
Hot cross buns are sweet, spiced buns made with dried fruit and leavened with yeast. A cross, the symbol of Christ, is placed on top of the buns, either with pastry or a simple mixture of flour and water. The buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday, however in Australia they are available in bakeries and stores many weeks before Easter.
A recent variation on the traditional fruit bun has become popular in Australia. A chocolate version is made with the same spiced mixture, but cocoa is added to the dough and chocolate chips replace the dried fruit.
Eggs, symbolising new life, have long been associated with the Easter festival. Chocolate Easter eggs, along with other forms of confectionary specially manufactured for Easter, have become a favourite part of Easter in Australia.
In the lead up to Easter, many organisations take the opportunity to raise funds by selling tickets in raffles for baskets of Easter eggs. Community groups organise Easter egg hunts for children in parks and recreational areas.
Easter eggs are traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday, however stores start stocking Easter treats well before the Easter holiday period.
The Easter Bunny
Early on Easter Sunday morning, the Easter Bunny 'delivers' chocolate Easter eggs to children in Australia, as he does in many parts of the world.
The rabbit and the hare have long been associated with fertility, and have therefore been associated with spring and spring festivals. The rabbit as a symbol of Easter seems to have originated in Germany where it was first recorded in writings in the 16th century. The first edible Easter bunnies, made from sugared pastry, were made in Germany in the 19th century.
The Easter Bilby
Image courtesy of The Australian Bilby Appreciation Society.
Rabbits are an introduced species in Australia and are unpopular because of the damage they do to the land.
In 1991 a campaign was started by the Anti-Rabbit Research Foundation to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby (an endangered species). Author Jenny Bright wrote a children's story called Burra Nimu the Easter Bilby to support the campaign.
Greek Orthodox Easter traditions
The celebrations for Greek Easter begin two months before Christian Easter celebrations with Mardi Gras. The Carnival or Apokria season starts on the Sunday of Teloni and Fariséou and ends on Shrovetide Sunday with the Burning of the Carnival King , which involves setting fire to an enormous papier-mâché effigy of Judas.
For Greeks, Clean Monday is one of the most festive holidays of the year. As Lent begins, children and their parents go into the hills of Athens and the Greek countryside to fly kites and feast at local tavernas or outdoor picnics.
On Holy Thursday the bright dyed red eggs that are symbolic of Easter in Greece are prepared. Tradition says that the Virgin Mother, Mary, dyed eggs this colour to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and to celebrate life. On Good Friday or Great Friday, flags at homes and government buildings are set at half mast to mark the mournful day.
Celebrations continue with the cracking of eggs and The Resurrection Table. The dyed red Easter eggs that are found on the Resurrection Table become pieces of a traditional game. Each person takes an egg and challengers attempt to crack each others' eggs, which is meant to symbolise Christ breaking from the Tomb. The person whose egg lasts the longest is assured good luck for the rest of the year.
Blessing of the Fleet
Courtesy of Ulladulla Blessing of the Fleet.
The Ulladulla Blessing of the Fleet Festival on the New South Wales south coast is an old tradition which originated in Sicily to ensure that the fishermen would return to port and have a bountiful catch.
In 1956, Italian fishermen and their families organised Ulladulla's first Blessing of the Fleet, with St. Peter being chosen as the patron Saint of Fishermen. Activities included the spaghetti-eating contest, climbing of the greasy pole, apple on a string, greasy pig and the naming of the Fishermen's Princess, traditions which still continue.
The Easter holiday in Australia
The four-day 'weekend'
In addition to its religious significance, Easter in Australia is enjoyed as a four-day holiday weekend starting on Good Friday and ending on Easter Monday.
This extra-long weekend is an opportunity for Australians to take a mini-holiday, or get together with family and friends. Easter often coincides with school holidays, so many people with school aged children incorporate Easter into a longer family holiday. Easter is the busiest time for domestic air travel in Australia, and a very popular time for gatherings such as weddings and christenings.
Sydney Royal Easter Show
Rusty the rodeo clown, Easter Show, Sydney, 1991.
Photo by Jon Lewis.
Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia
The Sydney Royal Easter Show is Australia's largest annual event and celebrates all everything from our bush heritage to the vitality of city life. It takes place annually at Sydney Olympic Park over a two-week period which includes the Easter long weekend.
The Show is part of the long tradition of agricultural shows that are held in towns and cities across Australia. At these shows, rural and farming communities showcase their livestock and produce, and exhibitors, organisations and companies provide people in urban areas with a glimpse of rural life.
Shows are also a time for competition, spectacle and entertainment. The Sydney Royal Easter Show includes the Sydney Royal Rodeo, and the visitors to the show can enjoy the latest on offer in the way of extreme rides and attractions.
There are many festivals held over the Easter holiday in Australia. Performers and audiences travel long distances to attend music festivals as diverse as the National Folk Festival in Canberra, the East Coast International Blues & Roots Festival at Byron Bay in northern New South Wales, and the Australian Gospel Music Festival in Toowoomba in Queensland.
There are also festivals with a more local or regional nature such as the Bendigo Easter Festival, in Victoria.
The football season is well under way by Easter and all football codes schedule major league matches over the Easter holiday period which are well attended.
The Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race, a 308 nautical mile ocean race, is Queensland's premier blue water classic and one of Australia's major sporting events over the Easter weekend.
For horse racing fans there is a four-day Easter Racing Carnival at Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, Caufield Racecourse in Melbourne holds an Easter Saturday Meeting and an Easter Monday Meeting, and other cities and regional centres also schedule racing events at this time of year.
The Tasmania Three Peaks Race, a four-day, non-stop 335 nautical mile sailing and endurance running race around Tasmania's east coast every Easter attracts contestants from around the world. Teams of two runners leave their yachts at three points on the coast for 133 km of running. Each run involves scaling a rugged mountain peak.
Related Culture and Recreation Portal stories
- Easter - Origins of the name and celebration
- Determining the date of Easter - IPS Radio and Space Services
- Calculation of the Ecclesiastical Calendar - Marcos J. Montes
- National Council of Churches in Australia
- State Library of Queensland - Easter activities
The Easter calendar
Easter Bunny and Easter Bilby
Easter festivals and events in Australia
- Sydney Royal Easter Show
- National Folk Festival
- East Coast International Blues & Roots Festival
- Australian Gospel Music Festival
- Bendigo Easter Festival
- Ulladulla Blessing of the Fleet Festival
- Brisbane to Gladstone Yacht Race
- Tarra Easter Festival
- Tasmania Three Peaks Race
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Last updated: 20th February 2007