Measure seven times, cut once
Surprisingly, among all the well-researched answers here, nobody seems to have mentioned that both Christmas and Easter are borrowed (at least in part) from paganism and offer a spirituality deeply tainted with superstition. In contrast, Good Friday is rooted in a more modern and uniquely Christian spiritual perspective.
Let's begin with everybody’s favorite holiday. We do all know that Christmas started out as a festival of the winter solstice, right? The moment in the depth of winter when the days start getting longer again: a secret moment of renewal, the mysterious origin of nature’s slow rebirth. This is all utterly pagan, going back probably to Stonehenge or beyond. Thus of course the date, December 25, celebrated among the pre-Christian Romans as the winter solstice, has nothing to do with Christ. In fact there is not a word in Scripture or in apostolic tradition about the date of Christ’s birth, and moreover the whole set of customs around Christmas — the pine tree hung with ornaments, the gift-giving, the candles, etc — all have their roots in older festivals. Christmas - Wikipedia
But I would go further still and say that Christmas itself has little to do with what’s important about Christianity. Sure, everybody has to be born, even someone whose conception was immaculate, but there’s little in it beyond that. Well, except for the story of the Magi, with those clear astrological echoes, and then there’s the confused genealogy tracing Christ’s lineage (through Joseph!) back to King David and beyond; but these are both little more than a gloss. They don’t cut to the essence or meaning of Christianity, because the truth is that a baby being born — even a royal or preordained one — is not part of the message that Christ taught.
Even if we suppose that Jesus was born on Christmas Day in the year zero, surely we don’t feel that he was born as a religious figure on that day? Unless for you this is primarily an astrological or genealogical matter. If that’s the way you like your religion, then go right ahead. But surely the message of the man who said, “the Kingdom of God is within you”(Luke 17:21) was of an entirely different order, and much more meaningful. Surely the important birth is one that happens in the heart, that has to do with one’s conscience and consciousness, and not with signs in the heavens and one’s father’s father’s name.
This focus on the inner world was perhaps the core message of Christ. And what a fundamental challenge it was to the powers-that-be of his era, with their control over pomp and ritual, their genealogies, their superior knowledge of the law and control over the courts. One of my favorites was Christ’s response to a “gotcha” moment having to do with the dietary restrictions: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man. It is what comes out of a man’s mouth that defiles him" (Matthew 15:11).
But turning to Easter, here the date does have religious import, since we know that the arrest of Jesus, and probably the crucifixion, must have happened around the time of Passover (since the Last Supper was a Passover meal). And so, for hundreds of years, until the crazy search for heretics gained momentum, the early Christians simply used the date of Passover for their celebrations of Easter. (Easter - Wikipedia) Thus the dating of Easter does have a definite religious logic, much more so than does Christmas.
Of course it’s an inconvenient logic for those who aren’t up on our lunar calendars. But by strange coincidence Passover happens very close every year to the time of the vernal equinox, celebrated throughout the near and mideast for millenia. This holiday is now best known as the Persian New Year (or Nowruz, for New Day, or New Light: Nowruz - Wikipedia).
My personal hunch is that the Jewish dating of Passover may have originated with the equinox too, just like Nowruz. I would even guess that all the most ancient holidays began somehow with observations of the sky, going way back to the neolithic period as humanity was climbing into historicity out of its hunter-gatherer darkness. In the case of Passover though, the desert proto-Hebrews used the moon for their calculations; which inevitably would land them with a floating, inconsistent date, one that is always close to the equinox but never quite exactly right. Since then of course the lunar dating, whatever its original purpose, has become a tradition and hence a purpose in itself, handed on to Christianity at one remove.
As to the word “Easter,” here we are definitely back to paganism again, almost certainly having to do with the equinox, or perhaps just with the season of spring. Thus the month of April used to be called, in old English, the month of Eostre. Eostre was an ancient goddess, apparently symbolizing light or the dawn (Ēostre - Wikipedia), whose roots may extend all the way back into the days of the Indoeuropean tribes. And while most languages of Europe base their word for Easter on an adaptation of the Hebrew pesach, or passover, Eostre’s name found its way into all the Germanic languages.
Turning to the Easter egg, there is something about it that has always made perfect sense to me, in terms of springtime — a tiny golden sun hidden away, symbol of fertility, new life, and the chicks themselves the color of sunlight, etc. Don’t know about you, but I can see that. (By the way, the roasted egg, or beitzah, is a traditional food for Passover Seder as well.) There is also a Christianized parsing of the Easter egg, but it seems more strained: the eggshell being like Christ’s empty tomb, from which the resurrection has burst forth. I don’t think there is any Christian interpretation of the bunnies and baby chickens though. Like the evergreen tree and its decorations, these must be vestiges of older ways.
But let’s take a moment to consider the religious and philosophical significance of Easter, as opposed to just the date, the word and the folk traditions. Many Christians will insist that the resurrection is the most significant fact of their belief. Certainly Saint Paul thought so: “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
But to a modern sensibility, let’s admit it, this is hard stuff to swallow; sort of along the lines of the sun standing still for three days to let Joshua finish his battle; or Jonah being swallowed up and living on for three days inside the whale. These stories, with their magical events and three-day mysteries, all have the ring of cultic symbolism rather than literal truth.
The thing about religions though is that they need to offer a wide range of comforts for the human soul. People are different, with many different emotional and intellectual needs; and even a single person will go through all possible phases of attitude and behavior at various times in their life. A successful religion needs to be there for us in all of them. So I don’t mean to belittle this doctrine of the resurrection, with its message of miracles in the face of mortality.
But if we are looking for spiritual insight that is fully compatible with the modern age, that can take us through not just our fears of death but also our mature search for a guiding wisdom, then I’m just not sure that clinging to a set of impossible factual claims is capable of being the deepest, truest answer for all of us. Perhaps there is a time in every life when only a mumbo-jumbo, priesthood-centric religious prototype can offer what we need, but surely just as much we need a new kind of faith.
Good Friday, to me, is a holiday that bolsters Christianity’s claim to be that new faith.
First of all, this date in the religious calendar is not merely a renaming of some ancient seasonal festival; it’s quite explicitly the story of a man accepting his own death. This doesn’t make for an event that speaks to the masses in quite the same way – there are no Good Friday packages with bright paper to unwrap, and no traditional dances, egg-hunts or festive games. Its message is somber.
But I do not agree at all with those who say that the Good Friday sacrifice only makes sense in terms of the resurrection. Quite the contrary. A sacrifice makes the greatest impression if it is real, not feigned or temporary. And being willingly put to death is an awe-inspiring act, worthy of the deepest contemplation, but only if it really is death; not so much if it is the prequel to a magical ascension. That is why the crucifixion ends in the words, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani, “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
The despair of those words can speak to every single one of us who has ever faced the overwhelming and somehow astonishing indifference of reality. The fact that we – previously the center of the universe – can contract a fatal disease that will run its course despite all entreaties, or that any of a thousand lesser catastrophes will inevitably sink us in the end: our business will go bankrupt, our families will leave us, or we can simply age, and there is no magic string of beads that we can shake and jiggle instead.
Thanks to Good Friday, Jesus Christ didn’t just wander and preach. He suffered total defeat and destruction. The crowds cried out for Barnabus to be saved, not for him. What a horrific fate, to hear this call for another’s sake instead of your own, as you are slowly dying, the subject of taunts and ridicule, soldiers playing dice for your possessions.
This is the bookend for Christ’s message that it is the inner world that counts, and that the inner kingdom, the secret truth, is worth any cost whatsoever. The sermon on the mount is a perfectionist’s vision. It is a call to the most perfect forbearance toward others, while at the same time embracing the most perfect standard of virtue for oneself. It is a warning against falsehood, against those who cry “Lord, lord,” yet whose actions are ultimately selfish. It has the air, not of cultic mumbo-jumbo, but of a timeless and uncompromising spirituality.
And in a sense Good Friday was the opportunity for Christ to make good on that perspective. According to scripture, Christ knew that one of the assembled apostles would betray him to his death. Even Peter, on whom he based his church, betrayed him three times and was not rejected for it. The stakes were the highest they could be, and Christ “survived” the test. Not physically, which he could have done through a simple renunciation, but spiritually, through a towering superiority over his judges and executioners.
Just parenthetically, I’d like to say also that Good Friday is to me a profoundly Jewish event. It could only have emanated from Jewish tradition, in its claim to be the idealization of the Passover holiday. The saving of the innocent, the “passing over” of death through the sacrifice of the “Lamb of God.” This is all beautiful analogy and no disservice to its roots.
But above all, Good Friday is the expression of Christ’s radical spirituality. According to this view of life, there could be a King with none of the external attributes of royalty, and a man could be victorious who was put to death, betrayed by his own followers. This perspective, in some sense prefiguring existentialism, is hypermodern and at the same time anchors in the ancient traditions of Mosaic virtue, with echoes all the way back to animal sacrifice. I don’t want to take anyone’s holiday away from them, but if we are comparing Christmas, Easter and Good Friday, surely this is the most important one.
Daniel Thomas Crouch
A Student of Religion and experienced in ministry
Of course this is subjective, but it seems that historically, the church has emphasized Easter Sunday the most. This makes sense since the Resurrection is the centerpiece of Christian theology and redemptive history.
Think of it like graduating high school. Your first day of high school is a big deal, you look forward to your final exam senior year, but the real day for celebration is your actual graduation day.
You weren’t asking this, but after Easter, Christmas is probably the most important and emphasized, shortly followed by Good Friday. In early Christianity this was not the case, but it has been for the majority of Christian history.
Christmas: God choosing to become incarnate. To take on human flesh, to step down from glory and from perpetual worship and joy to become one of us in this sin-stained world. To suffer disease and rejection and pain as one of us, to be misunderstood, attacked, tortured and killed. All of this was a choice, and a gift. Christmas is a time we can celebrate that Jesus chose to be born, that God had this in mind for us.
Good Friday: When we come face to face with our own sin. When we see gentleness, peace, joy and love incarnate be crushed by human stupidity and cruelty. We know terribly the part we have played, we see our own failure, we see the harm we have caused, and we must somehow muster appreciation and gratitude to the one who rescues us from death in the midst of sorrow as we watch our sins destroy him.
Easter Sunday: We are encouraged by the hope of resurrection and a new life. We see that it is true, that the hope is real, that the gift awaits each one of us. We see the promise of all things being made new, of no pain being wasted, but every moment being renewed, redeemed, changed, and made beautiful in God's kingdom. Our spirits soar.
You can't have resurrection without crucifixion. You can't have the crucifixion without the incarnation.
Can we rank these holidays? Christmas isn't even mentioned in the Bible as something to celebrate, although, of course his birth was heralded by angels. The Resurrection as historically been a much more important holiday than the incarnation, especially as we look forward to the world to come. But, by far, the most focused on event in salvation history is the crucifixion. More attention is paid to the last day of Christ's life than the rest of his life, at least in terms of words per day and details given, and significance. More of the epistles focus on the significance of the crucifixion than any other teaching or action of Christ.
If you cannot praise Jesus for Good Friday, then you do not understand why he was born. If we do not understand this we cannot die to self, and be reborn in Christ and look forward to the resurrection.
Jesus's mission hinged on the crucifixion, my vote goes for Good Friday as the most important Christian holiday.
Spiritual practitioner learning from all religions for over 40 years.
My own view is that all three are part of one story, and it is the story that is important.
Other answers that share my view to some degree are the one presenting the view from Billy Graham, and Crowley’s answer.
Before I share these details, I should probably say that it would be a mistake to call me a Christian. I should also say that I do not believe that what I do, described below, makes me better or more devout or more spiritual than anyone else. Rather, I take this path simply because I must. And I must because I know what kind of nastiness and life-wasting stuff I’d be likely to do if I didn’t.
My own view is based on two things. The first is a decision I made to celebrate the story of the Life of Christ throughout the year every year. I wish I could say daily, but I am not that devout. Starting December 1, I celebrate Advent and anticipate the birth of the Divine Child. I celebrate that birth at Christmas, and read through the Gospel stories of the Life of Christ until Mardi Gras. From Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, I grow in awareness of the impending end of Christ’s mission. I then live Easter week, participating through prayer in meditation in either the Stations of the Cross or the Harrowing of Hell. (Doing both in one year would be a bit much.) Then I celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Through the next period, I meditate on the mysteries of how Christ appeared again after bodily death and why we seemingly lost sight of him after that. After Pentecost, I spend the rest of the time living, in my own poor way, imitatio Christi, cultivating the Beatitudes from the beginning of Chapter 5 again until Advent arises with its anticipation.
Now, if I do all of that, how is it that I am not a Christian? Here’s why: I follow, with equal depth, the life of the Buddha each year and a pagan solar calendar. My meditations are deeply in response to the cycles of the moon, as well. I am aware of, and respond to, both the Jewish calendar and Ramadan, as well.
And why do I do all of this? Because I am an agnostic and a scientist. I realize that facts do not bring meaning into life. We create meaning by participating in, by creating or re-creating, and enacting, meaningful stories. So I choose to live the story of the Life of Christ, among others, as part of my work to do what is, Biblically, the work of the Beatitudes, to thirst for righteousness, to become a peacemaker, to be worthy to be called a child of God. And, as we are all children of God, this is parallel with any other path of fully Awakening as a human being.
The other influence on my view of the holy days of Christianity is literary. I share Tolkien’s view that the Life of Christ is “the greatest story ever told,” the story that informs all other stories with meaning. Note, I do not do this in an orthodox Christian way, nor am I heterodox. Rather, I am literary and mystical.
For me, Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter are all part of one story, and it is the story that gives meaning to life.
Creation, divine guidance by a Creator God (Judaism, Christiantity, Islam) , the work to end human suffering (Buddhism and Western humanism), the story of each person as a liminal being, as a spiritual being having a physical experience (Christianity), the material existence of life and all things (science), deep respect for all life and mind (agnosticism and deep ecology), and simple loving experience of Life (mysticism) are all part of the same Story. Though J. R. R. Tolkien made the life of Christ the central story, I see one story reflected in all these world views. It is the story of ourselves, our lives, self and other and All That Is.
Of which day I find most festive, I will eliminate Good Friday right off the bat. While important and meaningful, it is not the most joyful celebration. It is the day of remembrance of Christ's crucifixion. I was not brought up celebrating that day; however I was brought up being grateful for what Jesus did for us: John 19:30 " When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." "It is finished", he said. Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Easter Sunday celebrates the day Christ arose from the dead. This is something I celebrate and have celebrated all my life. The fun aspects of Easter make it an enjoyable occasion. Earlier in the week my mom would boil eggs and we would color and decorate them. She would collect the eggs up and give us little baskets Sunday morning full of candy and sometimes even a stuffed animal. I would eat hardboiled eggs for two weeks. I always got a special dress and purse to celebrate the day. I have a photo I wish I could find taken with my friend back in about 1975 on our way to church Easter Sunday. I carry these traditions forward to my own children; in fact Wednesday the neighborhood kids are getting together to color eggs and just last Saturday there was a big Easter Egg hunt at the park my young daughter went to. All that fun aside, the day commemorates Christ's resurrection. John 11:25 "Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;" and John 14:1-4 "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know."
I loved Easter. I loved Jesus with a pure heart back then without disbelief. Now my faith is tested in my older years but Easter is a happy occasion for me.
Christmas. Christmas is filled with the wonder of a child. The lighted tree, Christmas lights everywhere with walks in the night to look at neighboring decorated homes. Wrapping gifts, Santa movies. Christmas as a child was a fun time. A magical time. Christmas as an adult is ... Expensive. And it never seems to end. And there is lots that always needs to be done in preparation for the one big day. Honestly, I don't hate Christmas but I'm always glad when it's over. Christmas is not a happy time for families of divorce who have to share the children and who have memories of a happier time. Many sad people around Christmas. I have a bit of that melancholy as I have children from my first marriage and have experienced the longing for them on that day and the longing for the old memories of that time.
With all that said, Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ and retells the well-known story that is recited again by Charlie Brown in "A Charlie Brown Christmas": Luke 2:11 "For unto you is borne this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." Unto ME is born a Savior.
I believe he is my Savior and the Savior of the world. I have hope and faith that this is true. I have read much information over the past 5 years which has caused me to doubt it, but at the end of the day, Jesus is still my refuge, my peace and where I find my comfort.
After saying all this, I would say my favorite is day is Easter because he set me free that day. John 8:36 "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." And that is something for me to celebrate.
As far as which day is most important, they all celebrate milestones in one man's life and the impact he has on those who choose to follow him.
Easter, beyond question.
Without Easter, Jesus would be just another figure in history, and not a very important one; merely another wanna-be Jewish messiah in the early days of the Roman Empire, another failure. Probably only professional historians would remember there had ever been such a person. Certainly people wouldn’t go out of their way to celebrate his birth (Christmas) or commemorate his death (Good Friday).
With Easter? Well, from the Christian point of view, Easter is the turning point of all history, the day when God-as-man defeated death for all of us. Nothing is more important. And even if you aren’t a Christian, the existence of one of the world’s great religions has some impact on your life.
For the whole of Scripture speaks to one end... The glory of The Holy... And of The One who was, and is, an...
Thus says The Lord: ...
"These modern holidays, Christmas, Easter and Halloween, are an abomination in the eyes of The Lord God Almighty! Therefore I shall destroy all pagan traditions, even every perverse holiday of men!... Behold! I shall wipe them from the face of the whole earth, on that day! FOR I AM THE LORD, AND I AM COMING DOWN TO MAKE A SWIFT END!... And no more shall you break My Commandments, and revel in sin, in The Son’s name.
Behold! My countenance has turned against you! Says The Lord of Hosts.
For you have blasphemed the name of Christ!...
You and your detestable idols! Your false worship!
Your misuse of My name and The Christ’s!...
Your vanities, your greed,
Your envies, your lusts,
Your gluttonous appetites...
Your false witnessing,
Lying to your children...
Your covetousness, your thefts...
And your murders! Even causing many to destroy themselves!...
BEHOLD! ALL YOU DO IS ADULTERY AGAINST YOUR GOD!
Have I not given you Holy Days, in which you were to honor My Son? Yet you forget them all, even the seventh day of each week, which you were to remember and keep holy. For I, The Lord, do not change... What do all these traditions of men have to do with Me?! And why do you them in The Son’s name?! Give the gift of His name, for by His name alone are you saved! There is no other!
Stop these vain babblings therefore! You speak these things in ignorance of the Truth! Shut your mouths! Cease from all this blasphemy!... Be silent before your God, and speak to Me in spirit.
Know you not, that you have all become as the pagan and the heathen, by which all your holidays have their origins? Abomination! This world has seduced you, and the harlot has led you into temptation by her false witness!... Behold! She shall be left utterly desolate and naked! Her flesh shall be eaten and consumed by fire! She shall be destroyed under judgment! Crushed beneath the feet of The Holy One of Israel! Broken because of her iniquities!... And put to death because of her denial of the Truth, which she had replaced with the many cups of her fornications!... Thus she shall surely drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation!
Thus says The Lord God: One Commandment broken are all Commandments broken; one sin, reveled in My name, are all sins accounted to you; one sin, repented in The Christ’s name, all are forgiven you. For I know your hearts, My children, and I know whether or not you have become fully converted in spirit... You can not lie to your God.
Come to Me therefore, in all truth and supplication,
By Him who I had sent to you in Truth...
Being The Truth Absolute, utterly void of darkness...
HE IS THE LIGHT!...
By Him shall you walk into life!
HE IS THE WAY!...
The only name under Heaven,
By which you must be saved!...
Walk in Him, and you shall find Me."
Excerpt from: Letters From God and His Christ