Easter celebrations

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It's the oldest and most important festival in the Christian calendar and heralds the arrival spring. It's also a long weekend off work, a holiday for the kids and, of course, means lots of chocolate goodies. So how will you celebrate this Easter?

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Here is a brief guide to the Easter holiday

The origins of the word Easter actually come from the pagan word for April "Eostre Monath" which means the month of openings. Rituals celebrating this time focus on new beginnings symbolised by the Easter egg and the hare or Easter Bunny.

For Christians it's a time to celebrate the death and coming to life of Jesus. It's the biggest of all Christian festivals beginning with Maundy Thursday (the Last supper) then Good Friday (the day of the crucifixion) and finally Easter Sunday (the day of the resurrection).

For many of us Easter means chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. The egg is a symbol of fertility and new beginnings. It has been adopted by Christians as a symbol of the Saviour's resurrection.

It is traditional to paint eggs in many cultures as a way to celebrate the new sunlight of spring. Decorations can be very elaborate, especially in Germany and Greece where the colours symbolise the blood of Christ. There is certainly no shortage of the chocolate version. Shops around the country are bursting with the all manner of egg shaped confectionary but it's not all about the sweet variety.

One of the more bizarre traditions concerning eggs takes place on Easter Monday. It's a time when the country gets egg rolling. This strange competition, which takes place mainly in Northern England and Scotland, consists of rolling hard-boiled eggs down a slope. The winner is the one that rolls the furthest or most accurately, depending on local rules. The most famous of these egg-rolling events takes place in Avenham Park in Preston Lancashire.

The hot cross bun represents a rather different Easter snack. It was originally used by Saxons to honour their god Eostre and to Christians it represents the crucifixion. Most recipes use dried fruit and cinnamon with a sticky glaze finish but there are variations, including a hot cross bun loaf and pudding recipe.

For many there is a serious religious message to celebrate at this time of year. Thousands of us will flock to church for Easter service and Communion. Bells will ring out and swathes of flowers decorate churches up and down the country.

In the past people used to get married at Easter, which could be why it has become a time to dress up. Bonnets covered in flowers and ribbons will be on show in many of Britain's Easter parades including the most famous of these, the Battersea Park parade in London.