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The holiday of Easter serves several parallel functions in American life. It is a Christian religious holiday; it is a children’s holiday; it heralds the coming of spring.

Although the United States has many religions, and no official state religion, over 80% of all Americans identify themselves as Christians. For many Christians, Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the most important religious holiday of the year, even more important than Christmas. Easter Sunday is the day to dress up in your best clothes, attend church services (even if this is the only time you attend church during the year), and get together with family and loved ones for Easter dinner, typically serving roast lamb.

Easter, always on a Sunday, is a “moveable feast,” calculated by complex (Catholic and Protestant) church rules to fall between March 22 and April 25. Eastern Orthodox churches use a slightly different calculation. The question of Easter being an official government holiday does not arise, since it is on a Sunday, but some schools, banks and businesses may close on “Good Friday,” two days before Easter, to commemorate the crucifixion of Christ, depending on region.

For Americans, Christian or otherwise, Easter also performs a second function, welcoming the coming of the spring season. Many people believe this aspect has its origin in spring festivals dating back to pagan times in Europe. Much of the activity involves young children. The custom of decorating Easter eggs is best known. On the Monday after Easter Sunday, crowds of lucky children fill the White House lawn in Washington, DC for the president’s annual “Easter Egg Roll,” in which children attempt to race their painted eggs across the lawn.

Just as Santa Claus officiates over Christmas, in secular America the “Easter Bunny” welcomes children to Easter. American children may have the chance to “meet” the Easter Bunny in shopping malls and theme parks. Just as Santa Claus leaves Christmas gifts, the Easter Bunny leaves Easter Baskets, filled with pastel-colored candies, chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies, and yellow marshmallow chicks called “peeps.” Most American children, Christian or not, welcome these customs.

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