Easter: Christian or Pagan?

Apr 132006
Authors: Jenna Lynn Ellis

Easter, historically, is not a Christian holiday. However, the same issues surrounding the term “Christmas” versus “holiday” are being raised for using the term “Easter.” In fact, some are going so far as to say the Easter Bunny should be referred to as the “Holiday Bunny” so no one is offended.

But the Easter Bunny isn’t a Christian symbol. “Easter” is a pagan expression and, like many of the customs of the Easter holiday, has its origins in Greek and Roman mythology and earlier civilizations.

Easter, a pagan holiday of springtime life, fertility and sexuality, is celebrated the same Sunday that Christians rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and gift of salvation. But the origins of Easter are entirely separate from the “Day of Resurrection” that Christians celebrate.

It was not until years after Christ’s resurrection that the two holidays were blended into one and traditional pagan Easter symbols misrepresented as Christian. The name Easter refers to the pagan goddess of fertility, “Ishtar,” pronounced much like “Easter,” not Christ.

The word “Easter” does appear once in the King James Version of the Bible (Acts 12:4), but in the original Greek, the word is translated “Passover,” the Jewish holiday that was being celebrated when Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead. Scholars attribute this translation of “Easter” in the King James Version as the English version of the holiday, after the two events were already celebrated simultaneously.

The customs we associate with Easter are also completely secular and pagan. Bunnies, eggs and springtime (the season of new life) are symbols of fertility, sexuality and worship of the fertility goddess Ishtar. The Ancient Babylonians believed a fable where an enormous egg fell from heaven and birthed the goddess Astarte (the same as Ishtar and Easter).

So how did all of these pagan symbols and myths come to be associated with historical fact and Christianity?

During the Middle Ages, the Catholic church was also very politically powerful. Popes sought to Christianize the symbols of Easter, presumably in hopes of bringing the pagan and religious worlds together under the banner of the national religion. The egg was reinterpreted to represent the tomb of Jesus and, in breaking the egg, symbolizes His resurrection.

Christians would give each other the pagan painted eggs, saying, “He is risen” and “He is risen, indeed.” The church also adopted the celebration of Easter, redefining the pagan symbols as Christian. Even the sunrise service, associated in most churches as a celebration of the resurrection, actually contradicts the Biblical account (that the women visited and saw the empty tomb of Jesus while it was still dark).

In reality, the sunrise service worships the beginning of a new day (new life), new vegetation and the sun. Easter is always on a Sunday and the sun, rising in the east, also points to the name Easter.

Then why do Christians still celebrate Easter? We don’t. We may still call the day Easter, but we are celebrating something far different than bunnies, eggs, fertility and springtime. Many Christians and churches have renamed the day as “Resurrection Day,” a more accurate reflection and an attempt to restore the secular and sacred differences.

We celebrate the fact Jesus rose from the dead in reality. And we celebrate this daily, weekly and through partaking in communion (a “meal” to remember His death and resurrection) and baptism.

It was the historical Middle Ages church, so far departed from the original faith and attempting to blend secular and sacred, that took on Easter as a religious holiday and merged the pagan festival into Christianity.

So, renaming the Easter Bunny the “Holiday Bunny?” Well, it’s already a secular symbol and pagan title to call it the Easter Bunny, and thus a self-defeating purpose to discriminate for anti-Christian reasons against the word “Easter.”

In fact, the literal meaning of the word “holiday” is “holy day.” Celebrating Christ and His resurrection is the true holiday and something we can rejoice in every day, not just this Sunday.

Jenna Ellis is a junior technical journalism major. Her column runs every Friday in the Collegian.

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