In a world where everything has become a little too homogeneous and the pace of life has rendered it almost impossible to truly unwind, there are still holidays where we can get in touch with our roots and put a bit of perspective back in our lives. Celebrating Easter in Israel is one such event that may lead to our loss of cynicism – at least temporarily, and remind us that wars, economic crises, and many of the other woes in our lives are surmountable.
Easter, in its most obvious guise is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; however, in a broader context it is a commemoration of birth and rebirth. It is for this reason that Christian Arabs in Israel break hard boiled eggs symbolizing renewal and rebirth. And this is not the only Easter custom that you will find exclusive to the observance of Easter in Israel.
Israel is also known as the Holy Land. It is holy to the three major monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Israel is also known as the Jewish State as it has been the Jewish homeland for millennia and has a vast majority Jewish population. Although Judaism is the dominant religion though, as the only vibrant, pluralistic democracy in the Middle East, Israel allows complete and total freedom of religion for all faiths and ensures the protection of sacred sites for all religions. Consequently, as the place where the story of Easter transpired, Israel is ground zero for the re-living of such events.
Easter in Israel is a spiritual journey, not one inundated with the cheap commercialism of bunnies and chocolate eggs. It is for this reason that you will find Christians from all over the visiting Israel starting from Lent and staying until after Easter Sunday. They will avail themselves of Israeli car rental and see not only the sites in Jerusalem where the story of Easter transpired but other holy Christian sites scattered throughout the country.
It is in Jerusalem though, especially during Holy Week, where most of the “action” occurs as pilgrims want to be as near as possible to where Jesus was all those years ago and walk the same streets and cobblestone paths that He trod.
Often dressed in gold and white to symbolize victory and angels, it is cathartic and humbling to find Christians hauling modern day crosses along the Via Dolorosa just as their Lord did so long ago.
A visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was both crucified and is now buried takes on additional significance during this period. As one of the holiest sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a compulsory site for anyone interested in religion or art. During Easter it is the location of the final 5 of the 14 "Stations of the Cross" – places that followers visit of specific relevance to the Easter story. With the flickering flames of the candles kindled by the holy fire, the church has an eerie quality.
The hope to continue against all odds is brought to the fore during Easter and nowhere is this longing more keenly felt than in the holy Land.