This Christian festival was originally celebrated in honor of a pagan goddess.

Easter is not celebrated on a fixed date as that of Christmas is on December 25. The dates of celebration varies year to year. Hold that thought for a moment: if Easter is the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then wouldn’t that day be fixed like that of Christmas. Why does the dates change every year? The reason for this variation is that Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox. How on Earth is that so?

 

Related media: Pagan Origins of Easter

 

Whence Cometh Easter?

It seems every festival has its origin in connection with the changing of seasons. In the case of Christmas its quite obvious: the New Testament doesn’t account for the exact date Jesus was born, but most people believe this is because Christmas falls on the date of the winter solstice according to the Roman calendar. Since days that followed the solstice were much longer and less dark, it was quite symbolic with the birth of “the light of the world” as mentioned in the Gospel of John.

Easter also falls in connection with the spring equinox (that’s around late March or early April), when the length of days are equal with that of the night. For people in the northern hemisphere, this means an end to winter, and the new season comes with a blossom life of plants and trees, as well as the animal world, too. So it was really important to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year — with signified new life and rebirth.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons | Eostre: the goddess of spring

The name Easter has it’s origin from an English pagan goddess known as Eostre, who was also eventually celebrated at beginning of spring. Coincidence? This only reference to this goddess was from the Venerable Bede, a British monk around the late 7th and 8th centuries. Bruce Forbes, a religious scholar summarizes the writings of Bede:

“… the month in which English Christians were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus had been called Eosturmonath in Old English, referring to a goddess named Eostre. And even though Christians had begun affirming the Christian meaning of the celebration, they continued to use the name of the goddess to designate the season.”

 

Has This To Do With The Passover?

Take note: The name “Easter” is used in most English-speaking cultures, however, other cultures refer to it with a word that means passover in their language. For instance, pascha in Greek literally translates as passover in Hebrew. According to the Holy Bible, the Passover commemorates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, as narrated in the Book of Exodus. It was, and has since been the single most important Jewish seasonal festival celebrated on the full moon after the spring equinox. Another coincidence?

The Jews believed (and still do) that a Messiah would once again liberate them. Jesus and his disciples once travelled to Jerusalem during one Passover amid a triumphant procession that caused a public disturbance. This incidence, together with several others, were all the reasons why he was executed around 33 C.E for crimes of treason against Judaism. Afterwards, surviving followers of Jesus claimed that they saw him alive (just as Jesus himself promised), and this gave birth to the Christian religion ever since.

Jesus’ death during the Passover, his resurrection three days later, was all in close proximity for its commemoration. Henceforth, the resurrection of Christ was celebrated on the same day as the Jewish Passover which was around the 14th day of the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar. This was all because such a date would commemorate the continuity of Christianity with Judaism which it evolved from.

However, some Christians preferred to celebrate the festival on a Sunday — the day believed that the tomb of Jesus had been found. In 325 C.E, Emperor Constantine convened a meeting of Christian leaders in Nicaea to finally settle any discrepancies within the new religion. The council resolved the status of Christ, as “fully human and fully divine,” and that Easter should be fixed on a Sunday, not the 14th day of Nisan. To this date, Easter is now celebrated on the first Sunday after the vernal equinox.

 

Bunnies Don’t Lay Eggs

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Image: Getty Images Plus

The celebration of Easter was popular among Catholics than Protestants. The New Puritans of England even regarded both Christmas and Easter too secular with heavy drinking and merrymaking (something that’s still goes on today). As the festivals became domestic occasions in the 19th century, it was more of an opportunity for families to get together which made the whole festive season less rowdy. This gave much attention to children who were more significant with new life and rebirth.

At this time in the festival’s evolution, Easter eggs and the bunny became an important feature. Decorative eggs was a medieval tradition that had been part of Easter for a long while. Although, there are a lot of myths about the Easter bunny and eggs in quite a number of Eastern European countries. Some of these legends describe eggs turning red.

During the 17th century, there was a German tradition of the “Easter hare” (like that sounds familiar, right?), which brought about eggs to children around the bringing of the spring season. Rabbits in medieval Germany had an association with spring seasonal festivities because of their amazing harvest and fertility powers. These rituals were the very basis of the Easter tradition today. By the 18th and 19th centuries, immigrants from Germany settled in the new world and these traditions came along with them.

As Christians celebrate Easter this spring in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it would be important for them to acknowledge that their traditions are not entirely based within the context of their religion, echoes of the Easter bunny and eggs are pagan tales of an ancient goddess they would really oppose today. Remember that!

 

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, Aug 15, 2019.

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