In terms of Easter traditions, you may find that the celebrations in your sponsored child’s country do not vary much from ours: all seem to involve special food, dressing in your best clothes, and spending time with family.
The main difference in our customs is how much we consume for this holiday. Second only to Halloween’s $2 billion profit, Easter candy sales generate $1.9 billion. That total includes the 16 billion jellybeans (which if you laid them end to end would wrap around the earth three times) and the 700 million Marshmallow Peeps.
Sweets do play a role in many of the countries where Mission of Mercy works. In Bangladesh, mothers may make special pitha pies using flour, sugar, molasses, eggs, rice, and coconut, or a custard using milk, rice, sugar, molasses, and coconut. Families who celebrate Easter will share a special meal, usually a curry with beef if they can afford it. These meals and sweets are shared with neighbors and friends. Their joyful and generous spirits will be a witness to those who do not celebrate Easter.
Like many of us, the center of any Easter celebration is the church service. Some city centers will hold large outdoor services, sometimes at sunrise.
Others take to the outdoors to commemorate Jesus' sacrifice. In the Philippines, street parades are held on Good Friday, and Jesus' walk to his crucifixion is re-enacted. The man who plays Jesus will literally carry a heavy wooden cross through the streets before being tied to the cross.
There are also processions through the streets in Honduras. In several cities, artists draw out "carpets," or alfombras, using tinted sawdust, flowers, seeds, and fruit. Some depict the Passion of Jesus, others are artistic patterns. Last year's theme in Tegucigalpa was "United in the Faith of Christ." Easter is long established as the biggest feast week of the year in Honduras.
And in some Mission of Mercy countries, Easter observances go back many centuries. The Christian tradition in Lebanon traces back to the 5th century, and thus the Easter service is considered more important than Christmas.
The church in Ethiopia traces its history back to Acts 8, when Philip explained a passage from Isaiah to an Ethiopian and then baptized him. The Easter festival, also called Fasika in Ethiopia, is celebrated after 55 days of fasting. On Easter eve, people attend a candle lit service that begins around 6 pm and ends in the early morning hours. Then people go home to break the fast with a meal of chicken, lamb, and injera bread. A special sourdough bread called dabo is baked in large quantities, enough to cut off a piece for every person who visits their house.
Christians in Lebanon may also fast during Lent; on Good Friday, no one eats meat or animal products. This fast is broken with a small feast, including a chicken or turkey stuffed with nuts, as well as special cakes called maamoul, filled with walnuts or dates and covered with icing.
Jordanian Christians may celebrate with special honey pastries. (One note: the classic Easter treat of pastel, candy coated Jordan Almonds did not originate in Jordan. The name refers to the region along the Jordan River that produces the almonds, but the sugared almond treat originated in Italy.)
Special clothes also make an appearance during Easter services. In Ethiopia they wear white handmade garments called yabesha libs. With everyone wearing white, Easter services are quite a sight.
In other countries where Mission of Mercy works, the Easter festivities last longer than the church service. Kenya celebrates Easter Monday as a national holiday.
In contrast to our western (also called Gregorian) calendar, Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which has 13 months – 12 months of 30 days each, and then at the end of the year a month of 5 or 6 days depending on if it’s a leap year. Sometimes this means that Ethiopians and Coptic Christians celebrate Easter a week after the rest of the world; in 2011, we celebrate Easter on the same date. In 2012, however, they will celebrate Easter on April 15.
How do you celebrate Easter? Do you prepare a special meal? Has your sponsored child mentioned anything they do for Easter?