The Meaning of Easter
The meaning of the many different customs observed during Easter Sunday have been buried with time. Their origins lie in both pre-Christian religions and Christianity. In one way or another all the customs are a "salute to spring" marking re-birth.
People celebrate Easter according to their beliefs and their religious denominations. Christians commemorate Good Friday as the day that Jesus Christ died and Easter Sunday as the day that He was resurrected. Protestant settlers brought the custom of a sunrise service, a religious gathering at dawn, to the United States.
In Eastern Christianity, the spiritual preparation for Pascha begins with Great Lent, which starts on Clean Monday and lasts for 40 continuous days (including Sundays). The last week of Great Lent (following the fifth Sunday of Great Lent) is called Palm Week, and ends with Lazarus Saturday.
The Vespers which begins Lazarus Saturday officially brings Great Lent to a close, although the fast continues through the following week. After Lazarus Saturday comes Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and finally Pascha itself, and the fast is broken immediately after the Paschal Divine Liturgy.
The Paschal Vigil begins with the Midnight Office, which is the last service of the Lenten Triodion and is timed so that it ends a little before midnight on Holy Saturday night.
At the stroke of midnight the Paschal celebration itself begins, consisting of Paschal Matins, Paschal Hours, and Paschal Divine Liturgy.
Placing the Paschal Divine Liturgy at midnight guarantees that no Divine Liturgy will come earlier in the morning, ensuring its place as the pre-eminent "Feast of Feasts" in the liturgical year.
The liturgical season from Pascha to the Sunday of All Saints (the Sunday after Pentecost) is known as the Pentecostarion (the "fifty days").
The week which begins on Easter Sunday is called Bright Week, during which there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday. The Afterfeast of Pascha lasts 39 days, with its Apodosis (leave-taking) on the day before Ascension.
Pentecost Sunday is the fiftieth day from Pascha (counted inclusively). Although the Pentecostarion ends on the Sunday of All Saints, Pascha's influence continues throughout the following year, determining the daily Epistle and Gospel readings at the Divine Liturgy, the Tone of the Week, and the Matins Gospels all the way through to the next year's Lazarus Saturday.