Like Christmas, Easter in the United States is celebrated for its religious significance, as well its secular traditions. In many communities, the Christian aspect of the holiday—Jesus's crucifixion and subsequent resurrection—is honored by various religious sects. Most Christian religions observe Lent prior to Easter Sunday, where they set aside time to reflect and fast as a tribute to Jesus's sacrifice and suffering. Then, Lent is broken just prior to Easter Sunday when church services and family gatherings take place.
The secular celebration of Easter in the United States is much different. Most families honor the return of spring with pastel-colored Easter eggs, a visit from the Easter Bunny, Easter egg hunts, and candy-filled baskets.
When Is Easter?
Every year in the United States, Easter is held between the dates of March 22 and April 25. In fact, the exact date of modern-day Easter is completely dependent on the ancient lunar calendar. Easter is always held on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the vernal equinox, as this signifies the return of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Also, according to the bible, Jesus's death and resurrection occurred on Jewish Passover, which was celebrated on this timely full moon, as well.
- Easter 2021: April 4
- Easter 2022: April 17
- Easter 2023: April 9
- Easter 2024: March 31
Easter is one of the most important dates on the Christian calendar, so you can expect nearly every church in the country to be holding special services throughout the spring season. Catholic churches typically offer the widest range of observances starting on Ash Wednesday, where the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned, and then the ashes are placed on the foreheads of the congregation to honor repentance. This event signifies the first day of Lent, a time when most of the congregation will either fast or give up some modern convenience while reflecting on Jesus's sacrifice. On Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter and the final day of Lent), blessed palm fronds are given out to the congregation at mass as a symbol of peace and triumph. Next comes Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), when Catholic worshippers usually pray or take communion at home as an act of reparation for Jesus's sins. Then, a celebratory mass is held on Easter Sunday to honor his resurrection.
If you want to attend a special service, head to a famous church like St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. These city congregations are known for having packed pews and extravagant vigils on this day. You can also attend a mass from the privacy of your own home, as St. Patrick's Cathedral and other churches provide a live stream of their service.
Some churches will not be holding in-person services in 2021. Please check with the individual congregation for up-to-date information.
Religion aside, Easter in the United States just isn't Easter with egg hunts, parades, and a visit from the Easter Bunny. In fact, most families observe both the religious and secular traditions on, and leading up to, this day. Festivities usually start with egg dying the week or night before Easter Sunday, where hard-boiled eggs are dyed in pastel colors to represent spring. These same eggs are left out for the Easter Bunny on Saturday night who comes and hides them, as well as other candy-filled plastic eggs, around the family's house or yard. When the kids wake up on Easter Sunday, they are excited to search for the eggs, as well as Easter baskets filled with treats.
City Event Roundup
From bonnet parades to mimosa brunches, there are plenty of Easter happenings in the major U.S. cities. You can even get your farm animal blessed to assure ample milk or meat production in the coming year.
- Easter in New York City: The most famous Easter event in New York City (and one of the most famous in the country) is the Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival, where thousands of people wearing elaborate costumes and hats march along Fifth Avenue from 49th to 57th Streets. Anyone is welcome to join in the procession, but you can also watch it from St. Patrick's Cathedral.
- Easter in Washington D.C.: One of the most well-known Easter events in the country is the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, where children gather to roll Easter eggs down the White House's lawn. The tradition started during the era of President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878 and has continued ever since. In 2021, this event will be held virtually with an online scavenger hunt and egg decorating activities.
- Easter in Los Angeles: Los Angeles County is home to several large egg hunts, including an Egg Scramble and Egg-Spedition Egg Hunt at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. A traditional Blessing of Animals—featuring domesticated dogs, cats, and farm animals who are blessed by the Archbishop of Los Angeles—occurs on Olvera Street in Los Angeles's Little Mexico.
- Easter in New Orleans: Easter in New Orleans is not quite as bustling as Mardi Gras, but the holiday spirit remains the same. The annual Historic French Quarter Easter Parade is packed with colorful costumes and live music as it makes its way through Jackson Square, skirting St. Louis Cathedral, which holds services throughout the day.
- Easter in Chicago: Chicago has one of the highest populations of Easter observers in the country and plenty of holiday events. The Great Chicago Egg Hunt—featuring 25,000 eggs—takes place at Maggie Daley Park (and is being held virtually in 2021), and a delectable Easter brunch is served up at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
- Easter in Orlando: Home to Walt Disney World, Orlando is a mecca for holiday revelers of all ages. Disney World hosts an Easter Bunny (and Mrs. Bunny) meet-and-greet in Magic Kingdom, an on-theme parade, a plethora of brunch buffets, and egg displays in resort hotels. In addition, Disney World's Epcot Center holds its annual International Flower & Garden Festival all spring long, including plenty of kid-friendly Easter activities.
Some events may be canceled for 2021. Please check with event organizers for the most up-to-date information.