Is Easter Really A Pagan Festival?
Easter falls this year on March 31, but what exactly are we celebrating?
While it is true that Christians have for centuries celebrated Easter Sunday as the day of Jesus Christís resurrection, the roots of the Easter holidayís traditions and activities can be traced back to pagan celebrations: the word Easter appears only once in some versions of the Bible, and even then it is actually a mistranslation of the Greek word for Passover, the festival that Jesus would have celebrated.
That’s why strict Puritans in the past would have nothing to do with Easter, merely a human invention.
Where Does The Word Easter Come From?
There are several theories on the derivation of this name, but most experts agree that the name Eostre is a corruption of Astarte, the mother goddess of the ancient Assyrians, also known as Ishtar. Eostre was the goddess of rebirth, and in early times the feast of Eostre, around the time of the spring equinox, celebrated earth’s resurrection and rebirth.
During the 2nd century, early Christians attempting to convert pagan worshippers called their Christian celebration “Ostara” which later became “Easter.”
What about the resurrection of Christ?
Here too, Christians made the pragmatic decision to incorporate acceptance of ancient pagan practices into their religion. The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, appears in many myths throughout the ancient world.
There were also plenty of stories of amazing resurrections from the dead. In fact, according to myth, the goddess Ishtar herself was hung naked on a stake, and was later resurrected and ascended from the underworld.
Celebrating The Spring Equinox
But for millennia before the Christian religion imposed its beliefs, people were celebrating the spring equinox, possibly the oldest holiday in human culture. For a world tied to the rhythms of nature, the end of winter, a dead, dark season and the beginning of spring, with the rebirth of life, must have been a truly joyful time.
Interestingly, the early Christians recognized this and used the spring equinox to determine the Easter date. In 325, the Council of Nicaea decided that Easter would be the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the March equinox. (Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on a different date.)
All Things Easter: Bunnies, Eggs, Hot Cross Buns
Easter has so many fun things! For bunnies, we go back to Eostre again: her symbol was a rabbit or a hare. According to ancient myth, she owned a magic hare that hibernated all winter underground and bounded to life every spring, giving out presents to good children.
Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. The egg has represented fertility and restoration for a long time, probably long before our ancestors had any knowledge of sperm and ova. Eggs are perfect symbols of the regeneration that comes with spring.
And The Guardian explains:
Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead.
Personally, I love this season because the days are longer, I don’t have to wake up and go to work in the dark, and I know that summer, with the promise of adventures in nature, is coming!
Happy Easter everyone!
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