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!


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: thinkstock


Darlene Buckingham
shawn arscott3 years ago

Try to tell Catholics this truth! They blame the so-called Pagans for all the troubles of the world. And we do live on Planet Earth where life does return in the Spring. It is not surprising that there are festivals and celebrations to mark the return of the Sun. This is an old article - this year Easter is April 18th. This article does have relevance because no matter what year the Sun always returns in the Spring.

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobets3 years ago

Thank you

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

Religious people are simply not creative when it comes to their fairytales. They steal from ancient beliefs about sun gods and naked tree fairies and try to sell their specific brand of insanity to small impressionable children. These children (at least the ones unlucky enough to be born to abrahamic followers) are told they will burn in eternal flames in hell if they dont immediately subscribe to the oppressive, strict, ridiculous, sadistic, outdated beliefs. Paganism litters Christianity, and if one digs deep enough they would discover that even christianity started out as a Pagan religion. Very unoriginal.


Robynne W.
Robynne W4 years ago

No Filippos K. the author didn't mix anything up. People were celebrating the spring equinox for centuries BEFORE Christ was born and early Christians used this celebration to determine their Easter date.

Sarah Hill
Sarah H4 years ago

Thanks for the information. I had heard most before.

kara evans
kara e4 years ago

Fascinating stuff.

Filippos Kastanomatakis

Mixing things up? Catholicism started in 1054 after the Schisma of the Christian Church. Before, all Christians celebrated Easter according to the Orthodox rite, which celebrates Easter on 5 May this year.

Margarita G.
Margarita G4 years ago


E. J.
Past Member 4 years ago

Pagan? Not anymore:)

Kathleen Pfeiffer

Oh yeah....eggs and bunnies both fertility icons. ALL the major Christian holidays borrow from the pagan not only the dates but the items and images involved. That was deliberate by the earliest missionaries who co-opted pagan elements to appease the people newly converted without making them give up their celebrations. No mystery there.