March Holidays

Learn more about the religious and secular March holidays, including Easter, Passover and St. Patrick's Day.

Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter
Easter falls on the first Sunday after the full moon after the vernal equinox, meaning that the holiday can occur anytime between March 22 and April 25. The process for dating Easter was not established until three centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, during the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. Easter falls right after Lent, the 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday.

Palm Sunday occurs exactly one week before the Easter holiday, and it recognizes the Biblical story of the arrival of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey in preparation for His eventual betrayal, trial and crucifixion. Traditions associated with Palm Sunday include the handing out of palm leaves during church ceremonies to symbolize the scriptural description of residents greeting Jesus by waving palm branches.

Good Friday occurs the Friday before the Easter holiday and is an occasion to commemorate the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. The day is marked by fasting and prayer. In many countries around the world, but not in the United States, Good Friday is an official national holiday, meaning that banks and government offices are closed.

Easter Sunday is characterized by solemn church services in the morning that adhere closely to the religious significance of the resurrection of Christ. At the same time, Easter involves more commercialized celebrations geared toward children. The holiday tradition of preparing and hunting Easter eggs symbolizes rebirth as well as fertility, and it dates back to a celebration conducted in Persia 3,000 years before the first Easter that marked the beginning of spring.

The tradition of the Easter Bunny also originated in pagan religions in which the rabbit was considered a symbol of fertility and rebirth. The pagan goddess was actually named Eostre, and she was worshipped in the form of a rabbit. The earliest known Christian holiday tradition of including a bunny and eggs dates back to medieval Germany, where parents concocted stories of a rabbit laying eggs for kids to discover.

Another religious holiday that can occur in either March or April is the Jewish observance of Passover, which recognizes the Exodus of Jewish slaves from bondage in Egypt. Jews have celebrated this event ever since with the Passover holiday, which lasts for eight days. The Seder meal is the most significant activity involved in the holiday celebration and is characterized by large feasts attended by the entire family. During the feast, families follow a guide known as a Haggadah, which leads guests through the 15 steps of the Seder.

Traditionally, only matzo, or unleavened bread, and foods containing matzo are eaten to symbolize the suffering of the Israelites who fled to the desert without the ability to bake rising bread. As a result, they were forced to bake their bread dough into hardened crackers beneath the hot desert sun.

Passover observations and traditions are quite strict and include rules regarding diet and the types of kitchen utensils and appliances that are allowed to be used. Usually, most families have special dishes and utensils that are kept in storage and cleaned before serving. Families must also clean any Chametz, or leavening agents, or items containing Chametz from their homes before Passover.

St. Patrick's Day: March 17
St. Patrick's Day is not an officially recognized national holiday, but it may be the most celebrated unofficial holiday in the America ever since parades celebrating Irish heritage began in the 1700s.

As for the real St. Patrick, many facts surrounding his story have been distorted into the realm of legend and folklore. What is known is that Patrick was born and sold into slavery as a young man before escaping to a monastery, where he began to form the idea of converting the pagans back home in Ireland to Christianity.

The three-leaf clover known as the shamrock is the most commonly recognized symbol of St. Patrick's Day, much like the Christmas tree is the symbol of that holiday. The significance of the shamrock as it relates to the story of St. Patrick is that he used its three leafs during his efforts to symbolize the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this way, St. Patrick was able to relate the often confusing concept of the co-existence of separate and distinct forms in a single unified entity.

Celebration of St. Patrick's Day is usually more secular than religious. Parades are held in towns like Boston and Chicago, where there is a heavy proportion of Irish-Americans among the populace. For most Americans, however, this March holiday is essentially about drinking green beer.

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