Celebrating Easter in Australia

Easter is almost here, and that means many people across Australia are getting ready to feast on chocolate eggs and enjoy an extra-long weekend. For Christians, it is also a time to reflect on the date’s spiritual significance. You may have already seen the hot cross buns on supermarket shelves, but what is the Easter tradition, and how is Easter celebrated in Australia? Read on for your handy guide to the Easter holiday.

What is Easter?

In Christianity, Easter commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and is one of the two most significant occasions on the religious calendar – the other being Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.

Easter also marks the end of 40 days of fasting and prayer known as Lent, which remembers the biblical tale of when Jesus Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness. During Lent, Christians recognising Lent may not eat beef, chicken, pork, venison, or lamb.

The origins of famous symbols of Easter, such as the rabbit and the Easter egg (both representing new life), are a mystery. The symbol of the rabbit may stem from pagan tradition, while ornately decorated eggs were given as gifts during Easter in 19th century Russia. Many countries around the world have their own unique Easter symbols. For example, the Easter fox in Germany, the cuckoo in Switzerland and the bilby in Australia.

Do Australians celebrate Easter?

Most people in Australia celebrate the Easter holiday. Some do this for religious reasons, however, just like Christmas, Easter has become less about religion for many people in Australia. Others simply enjoy the long weekend, with many states and territories recognising two public holidays – Good Friday and Easter Monday. People might head to Mass at their local church, gather for a meal with family, or catch up with friends. 

A common tradition for children (but you can enjoy it, too!) involves embarking on hunts in the park or backyards to find chocolate eggs delivered by the mythical Easter bunny or bilby. Another popular Easter activity in Australia is enjoying hot cross buns. These are sweet, spiced buns, usually filled with dried fruit, like raisins.

Because Easter often coincides with the beginning of the Australian Rules Football season, games are spread out across the long weekend. This usually means two games on Good Friday, with a rare Monday game held on Easter Monday.

What is the Easter bilby?

Rather than the Easter bunny, Australia celebrates the bilby as our Easter icon. According to fossil evidence, bilbies have been hopping around mainland Australia for roughly 15 million years, but are now sadly a threatened species. This is mainly due to the introduction of rabbits by the First Fleet in 1859 for hunting. This invasive species drastically altered the Australian ecosystem and bilbies had to fight for burrows and food, while avoiding other introduced predators such as foxes and feral cats.

Wherever possible, look out for chocolate Easter bilbies to buy, where proceeds go to the conservation of this native animal.

When is Easter celebrated?

In Western Christianity, Easter falls on the Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. This means the date changes each year and could occur anywhere between mid-March and mid-April. In 2021, Easter Sunday falls on 4 April, at the end of Holy Week. The Holy Week period celebrates sacred days like Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Many Christians in Australia belong to the Western Christian tradition, which includes Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. However, Eastern Orthodox Christianity celebrates both Easter and Christmas at slightly different times of the year. In 2021, the Eastern Orthodox Easter falls on 2 May.

Things to do at Easter

In Australia, practising Christians typically attend Mass and take the opportunity for self-reflection and spiritual renewal. This reflects the springtime origin of Easter and the sense of new growth that comes with the season.

Both Good Friday and Easter Monday are national public holidays in Australia, which is good news for those who might not celebrate and wish to see more of the country. Last year, COVID-19 restrictions prevented us from visiting friends and travelling, but this year we’re lucky to have more freedom. One of the most popular holiday options over the long weekend is camping, with the weather still warm before the winter season. If you’re not a fan of camping, ABC Everyday has put together a handy rundown of alternative accommodation options at Easter that are just as good to enjoy with friends.

Are shops open at Easter?

Alongside Christmas Day, Good Friday is another public holiday where most businesses are closed, which includes major supermarkets. If you are looking to stock up on supplies for a trip away, make sure you do so a few days beforehand, and prepare for potentially long queues!