Passover and Easter

By Jerilyn WatsonPeople in the United States and throughout the world soon will observe two major religious holidays. I'm _______________.And I'm _____________. We tell about the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.Some people depend on the calendar to tell them when spring has arrived. But many others know spring is here because it is time to celebrate the religious holidays of Passover and Easter.

Jewish people observe Passover to remember the time when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The holiday also celebrates the real beginning of the Jewish nation. And it represents the first struggle for freedom by an oppressed group of people.

Easter is the day when Christians believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Most Christians believe Jesus was sent to earth to save humans from wrongdoing, and to give them everlasting life.Passover is one of the oldest holidays in the world. It started more than three-thousand years ago. It begins at sundown on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan ('NISS-ahn). This year, Jews begin celebrating the holiday on April Nineteenth. The book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible -- the Jewish holy book --tells the Passover story.The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. The ruler of Egypt would not release them. Moses was the leader of the Israelites. God gave Moses the power to force the Pharoah to let the Israelites leave. God gave Moses the power to strike the Egyptians with terrible events to kill their animals and crops. The first Passover took place when Moses warned that God would kill the first-born children of Egypt. On that night, the Israelites remained inside their houses. They ate flat bread that did not rise, called matzoh. And they ate lamb.Moses told his people to mark the doors of their houses with the blood of lambs. That night, God killed the first-born Egyptian children. But He did not kill the children of the Israelites. He passed over their houses. The Egyptian ruler was afraid. He told Moses to lead his people out of Egypt immediately. Later, however, Egyptian forces tried to recapture the Israelites. But Moses separated the waters of the Red Sea so his people could escape. The Egyptian forces drowned in the sea.Today, Jewish families still retell the story of being saved from death in Egypt. They attend Passover services in religious centers. And, they hold a Passover ceremonial meal called a Seder in their homes. Family members and friends gather to read the story of the Israelites' freedom from slavery. They read the story from a special book called The Hagaddah. (Hah-'GAH-dah). And they eat several special foods that help them remember their ancestors in Egypt.The Seder foods include the traditional matzoh. This represents the time when their ancestors left Egypt so quickly they did not have time to let their bread rise. A lamb bone represents the blood used to mark their doors. Bitter herbs recall the hard life of slavery. A mixture of apples, nuts, spices and wine is called haroset (ha-'ROH-set). It represents the bricks and building materials the slaves used in Egypt. Each person at the Seder drinks four cups of wine. Another cup of wine on the table is for Elijah. He was an important teacher and messenger in Jewish history.The youngest child in the family asks four questions during the Seder. The first question is "Why is this night different from other nights?"The family answers the questions to explain the story of Passover. During the Seder, the family also sings traditional Passover songs in Hebrew. Listen as Richard Tucker leads in singing "Dayeinu." (Die-'AY-nu).Passover Seders also take place in houses of worship. Many Jewish temples invite the public to attend their seders. Sometimes special guests are invited to seders. The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism was honored at a seder two years ago in Washington, D. C. The Dalai Lama was invited by the American Jewish Committee.

Jews celebrate Passover for seven or eight days. During that time, they may not eat any bread or baked goods that have risen. Instead, they eat matzoh or baked goods made from matzoh.Passover also plays a part in the events of Easter -- a major holiday of the Christian religion. Jesus was arrested, tried and executed during Passover week. His Last Supper with his followers in Jerusalem probably was a Seder. Many Christian churches hold Seders to remember the connection between Passover and Easter.

Jesus lived about two thousand years ago. He taught about human responsibility and the love of God. The Bible says he also performed impossible actions called miracles. For example, he was said to heal sick people and give sight to blind people.

Many people became supporters of Jesus as he traveled and spoke. But Roman government officials began to suspect that he was plotting against them. Religious officials accused him of insulting God.Jesus was arrested when he went to Jerusalem during Passover. He was tried before the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Pilate surrendered Jesus for execution.

Jesus was put to death on a cross and was buried. His followers set a heavy stone at the opening of his burial place. But when they went there three days later, the stone had been moved. The body was gone. The New Testament Bible says Jesus had risen from the dead.Today, Christians observe Easter on a Sunday in the spring. Western Christians will observe Easter on April Twenty-Third. Eastern Orthodox Christians will observe the holiday on April Thirtieth. The meaning of the holiday, however, is the same. Its message is joy and hope for life after death. To celebrate Easter, Christians often sing the "Hallelujah Chorus" of "The Messiah" by George Frederick Handel.Thousands of American churches hold services outside at sunrise on Easter morning. This tradition is very old. It probably was started by Moravian Christians in the eastern state of Pennsylvania in Seventeen-Forty-Three. This Moravian service of praise still is held today.

Sunrise services in the United States usually are planned to include members of many Christian religious groups. One of the most famous takes place each Easter at the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor center in Los Angeles, California. People arrive the night before to try to gain attendance to this event. California probably holds more sunrise Easter services than any other state.Many Americans also observe Easter customs not directly related to religious tradition. People in many cities walk through the streets on Easter morning after attending church. They wear their new Easter clothes as they parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Some families color eggs and hide them for their children to find. Parents say a rabbit -- the Easter bunny -- leaves the Easter eggs. Here in Washington, a big celebration takes place each year on the day after Easter. The President of the United States invites children to search for Easter eggs on the grounds around the White House. Hundreds of children from many cities in the United States usually attend to celebrate the holiday.This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Shelley Gollust. Our studio engineer was Rick Barnes. I'm Sarah Long.And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.