Easter in Palestine: A Holy Week of Tradition for Christian Palestinians
Palestine is a very sacred place for Christians during the holy week of Easter. With the Easter story originally taking place in Palestine, the Christian Palestinian traditions for celebrating this week have brought about a reverent and celebratory atmosphere to remember and honor the story that is so sacred for Christians around the world.
While there are nearly a dozen different Christian denominations in Palestine, most identify with either Eastern Orthodox or Catholic practices for holidays and celebrations. And with the population of Christians in Palestine being so small, these communities have agreed to celebrate the Easter holiday together according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar.
Also known as Eid al-Ikbir (or the Big Holiday in Arabic), the holy Easter week consists of 8 days with four main days of commemoration.
First we have Palm Sunday. According to the story, Jesus came into Jerusalem riding a donkey while crowds enthusiastically greeted him by waving at him with palm leaves. Today in Palestine, Christians traditionally weave palm fronds into baskets, gather flowers, and carry them around in their new baskets throughout day. This practice is known in Arabic as Sha3nena!
Next is Good Friday. This is the day Jesus died by crucifixion. Many Christians believe this took place on Golgotha, which is now known to be where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is in Jerusalem.
Then we have Sebt al Nour, or Saturday of Light. This is a beautiful and uniquely Arab holy day in the week of Easter, also known as the Holy Fire Ceremony. The Light from the Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is used to light candles (33 for 33 cities and all those of the people in the ceremony) and the Light is carried to all major Arab cities surrounding Palestine — in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt — to spread the Light of Jesus. The candle, or Light of Jesus, is met with a celebration and parade in the cities, where it is taken to light candles in the local churches.
Finally, it’s Easter Sunday. This is the day Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and marks one of the holiest days in the Christian religion.
Christian Palestinians celebrate in their own ways too, with dying easter eggs, playing games with the eggs, and by sharing sweets. Most famously, ka’ek and ma’amoul are enjoyed for the holiday, but they also represent particular things in the Easter story. Ma’amoul represents the tomb stone of Jesus’ grave, while ka’ek represents the crown of Jesus for his role as king.
The Easter holiday is a very sacred holiday for Christians, and it’s particularly special in Palestine, the site where the story took place. These beautiful traditions show just how central Palestine is to the Christian story, and how communities of Christian Palestinians come together to celebrate one of the holiest weeks in the religion.