Easter usually falls on a Sunday between 22 March and 25 April. It is a Christian festival that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.1

While the word “Easter” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring called Eostre or Ostara, Easter celebrations developed from the Jewish Passover festival. This is because according to the Gospels, the events surrounding Jesus’s death took place at the time of Passover. The Jewish Passover is called pesach in Hebrew and pascha in Greek.2 It begins on the 15th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar, which is around March to April of the Gregorian calendar.3

The exact date to celebrate Easter was a subject of controversy until the early fourth century, when Roman Emperor Constantine ordained that Easter should be observed on the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, taken to be 21 March.4 However, Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on a different day from Western Christians, which can take place up to five weeks later.5

Special days

Lent is a 40-day fast prior to Easter Sunday, in imitation of Jesus Christ’s fasting in the wilderness.6 It is also a period where converts to Christianity prepare themselves for baptism on Easter and a time of penance for sinners.7

Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent. A church service is held, during which worshippers are marked with ashes in the form of a cross on their foreheads, symbolising their sinfulness and the need to repent.8

Holy Week
The week prior to Easter is known as Holy Week. It commemorates the last days of Christ’s life.9

Palm Sunday
The first day of Holy Week (the Sunday before Easter) is called Palm Sunday. It celebrates Christ's entry into Jerusalem.10

Palm Sunday processions begin from the outside of church buildings and with the blessing of palms.11

Maundy Thursday
The Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday. It was derived from the Latin word mandatum, taken from the Gospel of John, meaning “I give you a new commandment”.12

Maundy Thursday commemorates Christ’s last supper with his disciples before he was arrested by the Romans. It was on this night that Christ gave his disciples a commandment to love one another. He also instituted communion and washed the feet of his disciples, a symbolic act of humility.13

In Singapore, Maundy Thursday services in Catholic, Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian churches often include a re-enactment of these events, with some churches observing rites such as Holy Communion and the washing of congregants’ feet by church leaders.14

Good Friday
Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, commemorates the day Jesus Christ was crucified. It is a day of fasting and penance.15

In Singapore, Good Friday is a public holiday.16

Holy Saturday
Holy Saturday is the day before Easter. It commemorates the final day of Christ’s death.17

Easter Sunday
In Singapore, Easter Mass is held to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and welcome new converts after baptism.18

Many churches have sunrise services, often held at outdoor locations such as East Coast Park, Mount Faber and MacRitchie Reservoir, to celebrate the dawn of a new era ushered in by Christ’s resurrection.19

Ascension Day
Ascension Day is celebrated on the 40th day from Easter. It commemorates Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven. Some observe this day on the Sunday closest to the 40-day mark instead.20

Pentecost Sunday
Easter celebrations conclude with Pentecost Sunday (Whitsunday), which is the 50th day from Easter. It commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ followers, and also marks the beginning of the work of the Christian church in the wider world.21

Related activities
In 2013, a guided church tour was organised in the run-up to Easter. Visitors got to see some of Singapore’s churches, such as those built for different communities – the French, the Portuguese, the Indians, the English and the Armenian community.22

Suchitthra Vasu

1. John Bowden, et al. eds., Christianity: The Complete Guide (London: Continuum, 2005), 464. (Call no. R 230 CHR)
2. Paul J. Achtemeier, et al. eds., The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 255. (Call no. R 220.3 HAR)
3. Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Passover, last accessed 17 January 2017.
4. Achtemeier, et al., HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, 255.
5. “Easter,” in The New encyclopædia Britannica, vol. 4 (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2002), 332. (Call no. R q031 NEW); Achtemeier, et al., HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, 255.
6. Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Lent,” last accessed 17 January 2017.
7. Bowden, et al., Christianity, 462; Encyclopaedia Britannica, ”Lent.”
8. Bowden, et al., Christianity,” 462.
9. Bowden, et al., Christianity,” 463.
10. Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Palm Sunday,” last accessed 17 January 2017.
11. Bowden, et al., Christianity,” 463.
12. Bowden, et al., Christianity,” 463.
13. “Bishop Performs Feet-Washing Easter Ritual,” Straits Times, 14 April 1995, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Shree Ann Mathavan, “S’pore Prays… and Plays,” New Paper, 13 April 2006, 6; “Three Important Days in Christian Calendar,” Straits Times, 9 April 1993, 30. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Bowden, et al., Christianity,” 463.
16. “Public Holidays: Entitlement and Pay,” Ministry of Manpower, last updated 8 August 2019.
17. Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Holy Saturday,” last accessed 17 January 2017.
18. “Christians Mark Good Friday with Worship, Prayers,” Straits Times, 10 April 1993, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Wong Sing Yeong, “Sunrise Faith,” Singapore Monitor, 6 April 1985, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Bowden, et al., Christianity,” 464; Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Ascension,” last accessed 17 January 2017.
21. Bowden, et al., Christianity,” 464; Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Ascension.”
22. “Tours,” Straits Times, 22 March 2013, 9. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at January 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


Ethnic festivals