[Note: This post is a collaboration with Berny Belvedere.]
Throughout the world Easter is celebrated as the greatest event of the Christian faith. But as with most things associated with Christianity, we Americans tend to put our peculiar stamp on the holiday. Here are five facts you should know about Easter in America:
1. Easter Sunday church services are among the most well-attended all year. There’s even two terms to describe these additional congregants: CEOs — Christians who are “Christmas and Easter Only” — and Chreasters. These are Americans who darken the doors of a church twice a year, once in April and then again in December. A 2012 study by LifeWay Research asked pastors to list the days in the year in which their churches experience the highest level of attendance. Predictably, Easter and Christmas ranked number 1 and 2.
2. In 2015, more Americans searched for “church” on Google in the week leading up to Easter Sunday (April 5) than any other week in the year. (When including the word “service” — so that the full search term is “church service” — Christmas overtakes Easter, though the two remain high above the rest in terms of search activity throughout the year.) If we isolate April 2015 and take a look at where the search activity is most intense, the coastal regions of the Northeast and the coastal states along the West coast show the least amount of interest. This broadly correlates with findings produced by Ligonier Ministries, whose State of Theology survey from 2014 registered less belief in the full doctrine of the resurrection along these regions (Northeast, 33 percent; West, 45 percent) than in the Midwest (47 percent) and South (50 percent).3. The major television networks also pay attention to these trends, which is why two of the four big networks — ABC and NBC — ran overtly Christian programming during the primetime slot on their Easter Sunday schedule last year. ABC used all four hours to broadcast Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, and NBC used its 9:00 PM slot to air A.D.: The Bible Continues. This year FOX aired Tyler Perry’s The Passion, a modern musical based on the traditional Passion Play, on Palm Sunday. (The Passion will also be on Netflix beginning Good Friday 2016.)
4. The Easter season also looms large for big screen releases. A couple of years ago, Son of God came out to wide release right at the beginning of March. This year will also see a number of movies released in the weeks leading up to Easter in order to capitalize on religious interest during that time: Risen (had an early premiere in late February, though it is also showing throughout March and April); The Young Messiah (March 11); Miracles from Heaven (March 16); and God’s Not Dead 2 (April 1).
5. Easter spending — projected to break records at more than 17 billion dollars this year — is also significant, though not necessarily religiously motivated. Although the category “Christian Books and Bibles” on Amazon.com can seem believer-specific, as of March 24, 11 out of 20 bestsellers in that category are Easter-related, yet only 2 of the 11 books are explicitly religious in nature. Americans even spend more on candy for Easter than for Halloween. The average American celebrating Easter is expected to will spend $28.11 on candy this year.