Lent, celebrated by the Christian Church, is almost over, and Easter is almost upon us. Christians, and countries with a Christian tradition/history, mark the resurrection of Jesus, following his crucifixion (hanging on the cross) which is remembered on the Friday before – Good Friday.
The timing is set by moon cycles, so the dates vary, and traditions vary in Eastern and Western churches – assuming that because Easter has been held in one place doesn’t mean it’s already happened somewhere else, although this year they are relatively close – April 8 (Western calendar) and April 15 (Eastern calendar).
In the United States, as Easter Sunday falls on a Sunday, which is already a day off, no extra days off are generally awarded, but often shops, malls and restaurants close – along with most of the very few banks that open on a Sunday. New York is notable for its Easter parade, famous for its Easter bonnets. Good Friday, however, is a holiday in 12 states, and most businesses and public sector organizations close. Schools used to take a one or two week spring recess, but have mostly now changed. On Easter Monday, the President of the United States traditionally holds an Easter egg roll on lawn of the White House
Both Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are public holidays In Canada, and Quebec awards either Good Friday or Easter Monday as a statutory holiday (although most companies give both). Good Friday is a public holiday.
Across Scandinavia Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are public holidays, although some shopping malls open for a half day. Many businesses close for an Easter break (one week).
Many Christian groups won’t join in Easter celebrations that include Easter egg hunts, egg rolling, egg painting and such, seeing them as a link to paganism. The strong link is hard to ignore: Pagan legend relates that the Goddess Eostre turned a brightly coloured bird into a rabbit, which then laid coloured eggs. This tradition is where the ‘Easter bunny’ and ‘Easter eggs’ originated, and the way that the dates fall, so strongly linked with the moons cycles, give us another clue as to its origins.
This doesn’t mean, however, that the Christian/Catholic churches take it any less seriously, marking , as it does, the end of Lent and a church event considered by many to be far more significant than Christmas, even if the trappings are less overt and less widely celebrated in many places. For Jehova’s Witnesses, for example, Easter is the only major church festival that many will mark. In Spain and many parts of Latin America, ‘Semana Santa’ is celebrated with solemn parades in which many penitents march on their knees. (The parades in Sothern Spain also have celebrants wearing masks and robes that North Americans might be more readily associated with the Klu Klux Klan.)
Because the timing is similar, and some traditions are shared, some make strong historical links between Easter and the Jewish Passover. Indeed in some languages, no distinction is made between the two.
Passover, however, is celebrated very differently. Its origins date back to the Egyptian Pharaoh who refused to let the Jewish people leave. God sent ten plagues as a punishment, which the Jewish people were spared, and which finally had the Pharoah commanding them to leave. The full story is told at a ‘Seder’ – an event at which Jewish history is recounted – with the Passover Seder being amongst the most important.
Passover in 2012 will start on April 7 and continues for seven days until April 13th. In the Jewish calendar, holidays begin at sunset of the previous day, meaning that Jews observing the festival will start Passover celebrations on Friday, April 6.
Importantly, observers of the Jewish faith are required to refrain from working on both April 7-8 and April 13-14 – they are ‘yom tov’ – days of rest in which all creative work is forbidden, with the exception of certain types of work associated with food preparation (such as cooking).
The middle four days are called ‘chol hamoed’, the intermediate days.” On these days only work whose avoidance would result in ‘significant loss’ is allowed.
In Israel, Passover is stringently observed for seven days. Outside of Israel, an eighth day is generally added to be sure of getting the timings correct.
Jewish people will eat unleavened bread (matzos) during the festival, to mark the fact that those leaving Egypt had no time to add yeast to their bread that day, and is symbolic of removing puffiness (pride) from their souls. Houses are thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom to remove any traces of chametz (leaven) from the home. The day before Passover begins there is a ritual search for chametz in Jewish homes, greatly enjoyed by the children, who enjoy a special place in Jewish families.
Food must be kosher (clean), and there are strong traditions around the asking of key religious questions (which must be responded to before celebrations can begin) and around what’s included in meals at various points in time.
From a business perspective, over the next few weeks it’s important to understand the traditions of the countries and individuals that you are working with. A key tenet of cross cultural working (which is now the majority of workplaces) is getting to know the people that you are working with so that you can demonstrate some cultural sensitivity around asking people to travel at key times or sharing food, as well as awarding time off or allowing for it in planning projects.
If you are from a culture/faith that celebrates these dates – or others – why not proactively share this information with your team mates? At very least they may learn something about what’s important to you, and you may do them a real favour by stopping them from arranging meetings when everything’s closed locally or from embarrassing themselves or their colleagues.