Gwendolyn Dawson, a government worker from Southeast Washington, is not a regular churchgoer. She prays at home, and every couple of months she said she goes to church "for inspiration."

But Easter Sunday is different. She goes every year, she said.

"I can give no more respect or love than to go on that day. I go to pay homage," she said. "I also know that for me, I bloom, because spring is coming along with that day. It's like a rebirth. I feel rejuvenated."

Dawson will be among the irregular churchgoers or even nonchurchgoers who will swell the attendance at churches throughout the Washington area tomorrow, Easter Sunday.

For Christians, it ends the week that commemorates Jesus' welcome into Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, the conspiracy of his enemies, his betrayal, trial, crucifixion and, finally, his resurrection from the dead, as told in the Gospels of the Bible.

With the resurrection comes a promise of life after death for them as well, Christians believe.

"It's the heart of the faith--Jesus risen victorious over death and evil," said the Rev. Frederic H. Meisel, rector of Ascension and St. Agnes Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington. "The rest of the year just repeats--every Sunday is a little Easter."

It is the richest time of the year for both the devout and casual churchgoers. But even the seekers feel the pull.

Perhaps, some suggest, it is also because it is the beginning of spring.

The fluctuating date of Easter is tied to spring.

For Protestants and Catholics, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, who will celebrate Easter this year on May 8, it also must come after the Jewish Passover.

The origins of the name Easter may be related to spring. One monk who wrote in northern England in the 8th century said the celebration was named for Eostre, a Germanic goddess of spring. (Another possibility is that it comes from an old Germanic mixture of the plural of white and dawn--in Latin, the week of Easter was known as "white week.")

The egg, one of the most widely used symbols of Easter, was a symbol of new life in ancient pagan times.

In ancient Persia, the followers of Zoroaster were taught to believe in two great deities--Ahura-Mazda, the power of good or god of light, and Angro-Mainyus, the power of evil or the devil--contending for the egg of the universe.

In ancient India and Egypt, the rabbit and egg were symbols of fertility and were closely identified with pagan spring festivals.

Just when the custom of coloring the eggs began is not clear. One of the most exotic decorations, however, dates back to King Edward I of England, who in 1307 A.D. boiled 450 eggs, covered them with gold leaf and gave them to the royal household on Easter.

Of the doubtful who come to church on Easter, Meisel of Ascension and St. Agnes Church, said, "the resurrection of Jesus Christ is an act of faith that many cannot make. Those that come on Easter Day are at least trying to make it."

Meisel said attendance at his church jumps from about 350 on an ordinary Sunday to more than 900 on Easter.

"I rejoice in the fact that they come even if it's just once a year," said the Rev. Michael E. Cox, pastor of Georgia Avenue Baptist Church in Wheaton, Md.

"It's real easy to be cynical and say they come just once a year to wear their new clothes and be seen on Easter, but I'm not sure that's true," Cox said, noting that the custom of Easter finery has died down, anyway.

"I think they come because they want to be with their families there. There's not as many outside pressures; it's a time when they can share their love for each other and the Lord."

The Rev. William K. Thomas, senior pastor of Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington, said, "I think they come to realize the spirituality they have and make at least a periodic appearance. I feel grateful that they come and that they come any time."

"I don't think it's any kind of a rite of spring. I think it's just that the weather's broken, and more people are out," said Thomas.

But others draw other links.

"There is the connotation of spring, coming back to life," said Cox. "It's the thing within the person's heart that God brings a newness and freshness to life. The flower springs up, and it's new, and fresh, and alive.

"It's almost like taking off a tattered garment," Cox said. "It's a time to say I'm alive and God's going to do something to me, with me. It's a praise. If Easter is to be anything, it's a time of joy, a time of praise."

There are different levels of needing to worship at Easter, said the Rev. Dr. John Godsey, theology professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington.

"When we see a beautiful sunset or a beautiful flower, there's certainly something in us that wants to praise the giver," Godsey said.

"But I think a greater need is felt in people's lives when they examine themselves and realize that their old ways can be changed by a God who has the power to raise his own son from the dead," he said.

"What we're doing is confirming the spring in a way that goes much deeper," said Meisel. "We're affirming new life, which spring simply is, and that new life is Christ for us."

Many Easter customs are specifically Christian or linked to Christianity's Jewish heritage.

The origin of new Easter clothes is believed by some to have stemmed from the early Christian liturgies of baptism, which always were held on Easter. The newly baptized were given long flowing linen robes to wear, and it became the custom to renew the baptism each year by putting on new robes, new clothing.

The Paschal candle used by pastors to light parishioners' candles in church in Holy Saturday vigil services means Passover candle.

The celebration of Easter began at sundown on Holy Saturday in the early Christian church because of the Jewish custom of celebrating the new day beginning at sundown the day before.

In the early Christian church, the Easter vigil lasted all night and ended in a feast on Easter morning.

The tradition is still kept in modified forms by different churches. Roman Catholic churches now hold short Easter vigil services at sundown on Holy Saturday, for example. All Orthodox churches hold midnight services on Holy Saturday. After these services, many Greek Orthodox families hold feasts at home lasting until dawn.