Easter, and the Holy Week leading up to it, is celebrated differently around the world. Some mark the holiday with egg hunts and chocolates and visits from a giant, mythical bunny, while others choose to also celebrate the Resurrection of the Christ.
For this list, questsin considered destinations far and wide — across the United States and around the globe — where the religious Easter holiday is celebrated with processions, parades, and pageantry that mark the foundation of the Christian faith.
Since the holiday often coincides with spring break, Easter can also be the perfect time to plan a more extensive cultural family vacation abroad.
From witnessing centuries-old religious processions across Europe to a sunrise Easter service at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, questsin has curated 25 destinations where you can experience the holy side of Easter.
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The list isn’t focused on international destinations, either. There are plenty of equally engaging places right here in the U.S. to experience the holiday as well, including America’s longest-running passion play in Oklahoma and a pilgrimage to a sacred church in New Mexico.
Here are questsin's top 25 Easter destinations around the world:
1. Jerusalem, Israel — It is pretty difficult to think of anywhere more special to celebrate Easter Week than Jerusalem, where the story that led to the first Easter unfolded. Jerusalem’s Holy Week begins with a Palm Sunday parade to commemorate Christ entering the city. The route, which attracts up to 10,000 participants each year, follows the footsteps Jesus took along the Via Dolorosa in the Old City. A Palm Sunday Mass is also held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the place where Christians believe Christ was buried and then rose from the dead. On Easter itself, a sunrise service is held at the Garden Tomb.
2. Rome, Italy — Attending Easter Mass held by the Pope at the Vatican is a sacred experience for Catholics. And Rome is truly a wonderful cultural family destination to celebrate the Holy Week. Events begin on Palm Sunday with a free mass in Saint Peter’s Square. There are also Mass services on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Also don’t miss the Stations of the Cross (Via Crucis) parade on Good Friday when a huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as a procession passes each station placed by Pope Benedict XIV at the Colosseum back in 1744.
3. Chimayo, New Mexico — In the tiny northern New Mexico town of Chimayo, about a 45-minute drive from Santa Fe, this simple adobe church, known as El Santuario de Chimayo, has been called the “Lourdes of North America” for its supposed healing powers. Each year thousands of people come to this rural village to gather the soil from a place in the floor that is associated with a miraculous crucifix discovery in 1810 and is believed to have amazing curative powers. Easter Week is one of the most popular, and special times, to visit Chimayo, with many visitors choosing to make a walking pilgrimage to the church from Santa Fe.
4. Bloomington, Illinois — Bloomington puts on America’s oldest Passion play each Easter with a production now in its 94th consecutive year. The “American Passion Play,” held at the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts, differs from other Passion plays in that it follows Jesus’ entire life, rather than just the events surrounding Easter. In this performance, guests are transported back to Palestine in the time of Christ, and follow him on his ministry and life from the Sermon on the Mount to the Resurrection and Ascension. The settings and costumes aim to be as historically accurate as possible, and the script follows passages from the King James Version of the Bible.
5. Lawton, Oklahoma — Another one of America’s longest-running Easter Passion plays is performed each year at a remote location inside southwest Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge known as Holy City of the Wichitas. The narrated dramatization of the birth, life, death, and Resurrection of Christ has been held outside in what is now a replica of the Holy Land every year since 1926. The story is performed entirely in pantomime with musical backing, while readers also broadcast the script on the radio and to the Easter performance crowd. Over the years, the cast has grown to some 150 members.
6. Marion, Indiana — Running since 1937, the Marion Easter Pageant uses no spoken commentary, but instead tells the story of the last week of Christ’s life entirely with pantomime, pageantry, and hymns. The hour-long performance, held at the Memorial Coliseum YMCA, begins with the Palm Sunday entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and concludes with the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel’s “Messiah.”
7. Orlando, Florida — Orlando’s Bible-themed park, known as The Holy Land Experience, is a great, educationally focused family experience. The park is a living, biblical museum that is designed to replicate the city of Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. From the Garden Tomb to the Wilderness Tabernacle, biblical history comes alive in intricate detail. Although the theme park is open year-round, in the six weeks around Easter (March 14 to April 29, 2017) they put on special Crucifixion and Resurrection re-enactments outside by the tomb.
8. Lourdes, France — One of the most-visited religious sites in the world, the village of Lourdes, at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains, is especially magical at Easter. During the Holy Week, France’s second most-visited city sees thousands of pilgrims — it is the largest Catholic pilgrimage destination in Europe — carrying torches in a procession through the ancient streets, meditating the prayer of the Rosary. Many companies offer organized tours, which include Mass at the Grotto, a cave-like shrine at the base of Lourdes Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
9. Lalibela, Ethiopia — Ethiopia was one of the earliest countries to embrace Christianity, and very little has changed since the 1st century in the way its practitioners worship there. Easter, known as Fasika there, begins in earnest on its eve, as congregants gather until nearly dawn when Lent fasting gives way to enormous feasting and celebration. Lalibela, named after the 13th-century Ethiopian king who commissioned its building, is the site where about a dozen interconnected churches were carved out of volcanic earth. The purpose of this architectural wonder, according to Ethiopian lore, was King Lalibela founding a “New Jerusalem” after Saladin had conquered the Hebrew city during the Third Crusade. Fasika, which follows the Eastern Orthodox calendar, usually falls a week or two after the Western holiday, so American travelers would not miss celebrating Easter at their home church by experiencing it in the African nation.
10. Junction, Texas — The town of Junction, in Texas hill country, also puts on a re-enactment of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ in its annual pageant. It’s held at sunset on the Saturday evening before Easter Sunday in an outdoor theater off Farm Road 2169. The site, known as the Easter Pageant grounds, sits on a pretty hillside beneath a bluff known as Lover’s Leap. The pageant is performed and sponsored by the Men’s Bible Class of Junction, which began as a veterans' ministry.
11. Denver, Colorado — Red Rocks Amphitheater, just west of Denver, Colorado, is one of the world’s most famous outdoor concert venues, known for the stunning red rock scenery surrounding the stage, but also its natural acoustics. On Easter Sunday, a sunrise prayer service held here attracts thousands who come to worship in this place of natural beauty. Afterwards, many choose to go for a hike in the park surrounding the amphitheater or continue west into the mountains for a day of reflection in nature.
12. Florence, Italy — Another top Easter destination in Europe is Florence, which puts on a parade known as the Explosion of the Cart. The fiery procession is held on Easter Sunday in honor of the Florentine knight Pazzino, who was the first person to plant the banner of the cross at the battle of Jerusalem during the First Crusade in 1096. The procession, which began in the 17th century, features a float pulled by two white oxen through the streets before fireworks are set off from it before a host of fireworks explode from it.
13. Seville, Spain — Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Seville, is one of Spain’s largest religious festivals. The week is filled with parades, led by different religious brotherhoods, who dress in penitential robes, with giant floats featuring lifelike wooden sculptures depicting scenes from the last week of Christ’s life. Many of these floats dates back to the 17th century and are considered religious works of art. The most important parade begins on the evening of Holy Thursday and continues through Good Friday dawn.
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14. Eureka Springs, Arkansas — Back in the U.S., another Passion play option can be found in the Ozark Mountains at Eureka Springs. Here “The Great Passion Play” is staged in an outdoor, multi-level amphitheater with special lighting and sound effects, live animals, and a cast of 150 actors dressed in New Testament-era costumes. On Easter morning, there is a sunrise service at the amphitheater. The grounds of The Great Passion Play are also home to a few different museums, including one dedicated to the Bible, as well as a life-sized replica of Jerusalem’s Eastern Gate and hiking trails, which remain open year-round.
15. Mesa, Arizona — Held on the west end of the lawn north of the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center, the “Mesa Arizona Easter Pageant, Jesus the Christ” presents the life, ministry, and mission of Christ through music, dance, and drama. This Church of Latter-Day Saints’ presentation is designed for “all religions, ages, and cultures” and takes place over multiple dates in April leading up to Easter. Claiming to be “largest annual, outdoor Easter pageant in the world,” the Mesa Arizona Temple hosts audiences that can exceed 10,000 in attendance.
16. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — In Brazil, Easter falls at the end of summer, which means warm weather and plenty of light. Rio de Janeiro hosts numerous colorful processions throughout Holy Week, and during this time many of the city’s streets are decorated with carpets of flowers.
17. Oberammergau, Germany — This village in the Bavarian Alps has been putting on its “Passion Play” for nearly 400 years. This play is produced and performed entirely by Oberammergau villagers, by law, every 10 years, and it is expected to draw nearly half a million visitors to its 100-plus performances in 2020. Born out of war and plague and a promise to God, the manuscript has changed little over the centuries, yet has remained unique in updated presentations. The production is also easily the most exhaustive Passion play, expecting to take the stage for around five hours, with a three-hour dinner intermission. There is a theater tour, led daily in German and English, and an Easter market to add to the experience, as well as the many local and regional sights and delights to add to the experience.
18. Verges, Spain — Also in Spain, the medieval city of Verges puts on a traditional “dansa de la mort” on Holy Thursday. The “death dance” re-enacts scenes from the Passion, and participants parade through the streets in skeleton costumes. The procession ends with purposefully frightening skeleton dancers carrying boxes of ashes and is followed by a macabre dance that beings at midnight and lasts for three hours.
19. Charleston, South Carolina — Charleston is a wonderful city to celebrate Easter on the water. The weather is usually nice, the air scented with jasmine and other spring flowers, and there are a number of different sunrise service celebration options. One favorite is held at White Point Garden on the Battery at 6:45 a.m., and it usually draws a crowd of around 500 people. The views of the harbor as the sun comes up are inspiring.
20. Dubrovnik, Croatia — One of Europe’s most religious Easter celebrations takes place in the beautiful Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik. Here you’ll experience a ceremonious procession of the cross during Good Friday. Other Easter traditions include giving gifts of colored eggs and partaking in a special Easter cake known as pinca.
21. Indianapolis, Indiana —Christians come from across the country to experience Upon This Rock Passion Play at Pike Performing Arts Center in Indianapolis. The musical theater version of the Passion play includes soulful singing, choreographed dance, spoken words from the Bible, and even a pyrotechnic display as Christ rises from the grave.
22. New Orleans, Louisiana — New Orleans is a city that knows how to put on a good parade anytime of year, but on Easter Sunday, it offers a full Easter procession through the French Quarter. Known as the Historic French Quarter Parade, it has been running since 1956, and begins at Antoine’s Restaurant, continues on to Jackson Square, and then comes back to the starting point, following a stop for a mass at the St. Louis Cathedral.
23. Buenos Aires, Argentina — Easter Sunday in Buenos Aires sees a number of traditions including consuming and sharing eggs and a special Easter cake, known as rosca de Pascua, with family, friends, and even colleagues. The day also includes Mass followed by big family gatherings with food, usually of the barbecue variety and a government-organized treasure hunt.
24. Beirut, Lebanon — In Lebanon, half the country is Christian, and many Lebanese consider themselves quite religious, so Easter is celebrated passionately. Easter Sunday begins in church, and includes a custom that is unique to Lebanon. Known as Shanineh, it includes a procession of children carrying hand-decorated candles with ribbons and flowers.
25. Lakeport, California — If you miss the Easter Passion plays, head to Lakeport, about a two-hour drive from the East Bay, on May 20 and 21, for its annual presentation of the “Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Lake County Passion Play Grounds is a pastoral, lakeside landscape that serves as a 1,000-foot stage where more than 150 costumed actors re-enact the final days of Christ’s ministry on Earth.
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