Origins of Easter

Easter has always been one of the most revered celebrations of the Christian faith. Christianity dates the origin of this celebration back to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was observed by the ancient Israelites enslaved in Egypt. The book of Exodus describes a process of preparation for Israel’s evacuation, as the angel of death “passed over” any house that was marked appropriately. The Jews observed this event religiously from that day forward, calling it the time of Passover.

Eventually becoming the most important feast of the Jewish calendar, Passover is also remembered for the significant events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was during this short period of time that Jesus Christ was crucified and buried. Each year at this time, Christians remember His ultimate sacrifice and honour Him for his selflessness.

Not surprisingly, however, Easter is also rich in pagan origins. The word itself can be traced back to the name of “Ishtar”, the ancient pagan goddess of the Babylonian and Assyrian cultures. Similar goddesses were revered all over the world as almost all cultures celebrated a time of spring renewal and attributed this rejuvenation to some pagan deity. A few examples include the following:

Ostara, a Norse Goddess of fertility.
Hathor, from Egypt
Kali, from India
Astarte, from Phoenicia
Eostre (Eastre), Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people in Northern Europe

Easter traditions appear to be harmless, but have you ever wondered where practices like painted Easter eggs came from? It comes as no surprise that these seemingly innocent customs have pagan foundations. Eggs were actually held sacred in many ancient civilizations, and were used as emblems in various religious ceremonies in Egypt and Babylonia. Dyed in various colours, the eggs symbolized the regenerative life that proceeded from the gods. One Babylonian legend told of an egg which fell from the sky to the river Euphrates and hatched the Venus goddess Ishtar – the same goddess associated with the spring equinox. It is also worthwhile to note that the ancient Druids dyed eggs scarlet to honour the sun, and that pagan Anglo-Saxons made offerings of their coloured eggs to the goddess Eostre. It was customary to place decorative eggs in tombs, to ensure the rebirth of the deceased.

The obvious connections between these pagan practices and the truth behind Passover are disturbing. Parallels of the resurrection theme can be easily drawn since the ancient people also celebrated stories of rebirth and regeneration. Research has shown that early Christian missionary organizations accepted some of the pagan traditions that were widely practiced in order to appeal to the mass of society. Over time, the origin behind these practices has been disregarded, and slowly integrated into our Christian celebration.

Nothing can be done to erase the years in which pagan folklore and customs were merged with Christian tradition. We can, however, be aware of the origins of some of the things we take for granted at this time of year and avoid them. Easter should be a time of remembrance and rejoicing for Christians. Reflection on who was sacrificed for us and what was gained is enough to celebrate! We should be very thankful for the resurrection of Christ, because without it, we would have no hope for our own resurrection. So let us dance before the Lord, sing and shout praises unto His name!