Is Easter Really a Pagan Festival?

Editorís note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on†March 23, 2013.

This year Easter falls on†April†1, but what exactly does the holiday†celebrate?

While it is true that Christians have celebrated Easter Sunday†for centuries†as the day of†Jesus Christís resurrection, the roots of the holidayís traditions can be traced back to pagan celebrations. In fact, 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.

It’s no surprise, then, that†strict Puritans historically distanced themselves from Easter.

Where does the word “Easter” originate?

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 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 appears in many myths throughout the ancient world.

There were also plenty of stories†to draw from that featured amazing resurrections from the dead. In fact, according to myth, the goddess Ishtar was hung naked on a stake, and was later resurrected and ascended from the underworld.

Celebrating the Spring Equinox

For millennia, people have celebrated the spring equinox†– possibly the oldest holiday in human culture.†In a world tied to the rhythms of nature, the end of winter and the beginning of spring, with the rebirth of life, must have been a truly joyful time.

The early Christians 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 and Hot Cross Buns

Easter has so many fun traditions!†The origin of bunnies as an Easter†motif goes back to†Eostre, whose 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, and I don’t have to wake up and go to work in the dark. And best of all,† I know that summer, with the promise of adventures in nature, is on its way.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Related Care2 Coverage
5 Ways Christmas And Hannukah Co-Opted Paganism
Happy Easter! 4 Traditional Ways To Celebrate
Easter Eggs: More Packaging Than Chocolate

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash


Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

Thank you!

Sue H
Sue H7 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

natasha p
Past Member 9 months ago

just another day

heather g
heather g11 months ago

Just enjoy the long weekend

Ian T
Ian T11 months ago

It appears that fake news has been around for thousands of years, along with, apparently, more than just a crumble of cake news, and that it still thrives today in spite of all the advancements in the sum of human knowledge.

Misss D
Shari F11 months ago

Don't buy a rabbit for Easter! A bunny is for life, not just for Easter!

Ruth S
Ruth S11 months ago

Not for me.

Colin C
Colin C11 months ago

All I know is that where I live everything basically stops for 4 to 5 days, Good Friday and Easter Mondays are holidays

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell11 months ago


Amanda M
Amanda McConnell11 months ago

thanks for sharing