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Easter
Major holiday before thisNew Year's Day
Major holiday after thisVictoria Day

Easter 2019 and 2020

Easter is one of the most widely celebrated holiday seasons across Canada.

Year Date Day Holiday Provinces and Territories
2019 19 Apr Fri Good Friday National
22 Apr Mon Easter Monday NT & QC
2020 10 Apr Fri Good Friday National
13 Apr Mon Easter Monday NT & QC

A large majority of Canadians belong to one of any number of Christian denominations and celebrate Easter every year as both a religious and cultural event. Since Canadians’ ancestors hail from a great variety of other lands, though British and French ancestry is especially common, Canada is home to many different Easter traditions.

The Catholic and Protestant strains of Easter tradition are distinct to a degree, but there is much overlap even here. Many Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians, for example, partake in certain Easter observances that are very similar to those practised by Roman Catholics.

Religious Observance of the Easter Season

For many, the season of fasting and prayer called “Lent” leads up to Easter Sunday. This 40-day period is meant to correspond to the time Christ fasted in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry. On the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday begins Holy Week.

Holy Week marks the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and is often celebrated by Scripture readings and ceremonies in special Masses and church services. Some observe Monday as the day Christ was anointed in Bethany, Tuesday as when Judas’ betrayal was predicted, and Wednesday as the day Judas arranged to to betray Jesus and was paid 30 pieces of silver.

Maundy Thursday is the day of the Last Supper, and Catholics mark it by foot-washing ceremonies to commemorate Jesus’ washing of the 12 disciples’ feet. Good Friday, on which Christ was crucified, is a statutory holiday across all Canada. Holy Saturday, when Jesus lay in the tomb, is a day on which many keep an Easter Vigil to await his resurrection. Easter Sunday itself is set as the first Sunday following the first full moon of spring. It is the holiest day of the Christian calendar, and special services and celebrations abound.

Cultural Observance of Easter

Easter, in Canada is marked by many social and cultural events. Family gatherings are particularly common at this time of year. Families generally eat the third-largest meal of the year on Easter weekend, only Christmas and Thanksgiving being times of greater feasting. Some of the most traditional foods to eat during these feasts include lamb, ham, and hot cross buns.

Lamb is eaten to remind of Christ, the Lamb of God. The ham tradition derives from paganism and is supposed to bring good luck. The hot cross buns are of English origin. They are round, spiced, currant rolls traditionally having a cross shape cut into them. Today, the cross is often formed with frosting.

Small gifts are often exchanged at Easter time, the most common gift being chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits. Both rabbits and eggs are symbols of fertility that derive from ancient German paganism, but hey have evolved to become a part of modern Easter festivities. Painting hard boiled eggs with store-bought dyes or with beet juice is also common, and when the eggs are hidden, children go looking for them in Easter egg hunts. Finally, petting zoos are often visited during Easter so children get a chance to touch real bunnies and other animals. It is also not uncommon for pet bunnies to be bought around Easter time, though unfortunately, they are often bought on an impulse and not cared for properly the rest of the year.

Specific Canadian Easter Events

Local egg hunts, Easter parades, and church services on Good Friday and Easter Sunday are innumerable. There are, however, some unique and relatively famous Easter events that someone visiting Canada during the Easter season would do well to consider attending.

  • From Maundy Thursday till Easter Sunday, you can visit the gorgeous Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal. There, you will see the ornately designed interior and hear the beautiful organ music. You can also attend for a very dramatic Easter Vigil.
  • In Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, the Confederation Singers and the PEI Symphony perform each year around Easter. They typically will play Schubert’s Mass along with other fairly short pieces.
  • There are many zoos that offer special Easter events. The Edmonton Valley Zoo, in Alberta, provides an interesting display indeed. Visitors watch the zoo animals go on an Easter egg hunt and eat, smash, or play with the eggs. At the Toronto Zoo, children hunt for odd types of eggs, such as crocodile, turtle, snake, and Komodo dragon eggs. The Moncton, New Brunswick, “Eggstravaganza” takes place at the Magnetic Hill Zoo. Here, a candy hunt and a time to visit with exotic animals is on the menu.
  • Two out-of-the-ordinary Easter egg hunts are the one at the Hatfield Farm in Halifax, Novia Scotia, and the one at Oak Hammock Marsh Interpretive Centre in Manitoba. The first involves a search for eggs all over the farm followed by an all you can eat hotdog feast. The second involves hunting for eggs in the wilderness using GPS systems.
  • In Vancouver, British Columbia, you can witness the Vintage Car Parade, which is a major part of the overall Vancouver Easter Parade. This display is the work of the famous
    Vintage Car Club of Canada and is a big local attraction.
  • If, perchance, you happen to make it up to the Northwest Territories at Easter time, you should not miss the Easter Weekend Bazaar in Yellowknife. A combination of local handicrafts and baked goods will make it well worth the attending.

Easter is a part both of the religious and cultural heritage of Canada. It is celebrated somewhat differently in the Protestant and Catholic churches, but there are more similarities than many often realise. Family gatherings, large dinners, massive chocolate candy sales, egg painting and hunting, colourful Easter parades, and petting zoo visits are all part of the celebrations.