Many Easter traditions originated long before the beginning of the Christian era. Like Christmas, Easter is connected in many ways with pagan rituals that accompanied the arrival of spring. It is possible that the name “Easter” stemmed from that of Eostre. Ostara is a name derived from the Germanic Goddess of springtime. Ostara, or Eostre was her name, and Eastre was her festival. The rabbit was a symbol of this Goddess, and eggs symbolized fertility and rebirth. Pagan’s used this day to welcome the arrival of spring by blessing their seeds and celebrating the renewal of life.
Because of their prolific nature, rabbits have long been associated with fertility and its goddess, Ishtar. Ancient Babylonians believed in a fable about an egg that fell into the Euphrates River from heaven and from which Queen Astarte (another name for Ishtar or Semiramis, Queen of Babylon) was “hatched.” Easter is also associated with the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach. The term “paschal”, meaning “of Easter”, is derived from the name of the Jewish festival, as are the names of Easter in some foreign languages. The Spring Equinox is used in Judeism to calculate the start of Passover. Passover was originally a pilgrimage holiday, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Since Jesus, a Jew, was in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover when he was betrayed, arrested, and crucified, this same calculation is used by Christians to determine the days of Paqua, the latinate name for the period of the Passion of Christ, including the day He was discovered risen from his grave. In Greek, Easter is called Pascha, meaning passover: It is the eternal Passover from death to life and from earth to heaven.
The Easter Egg is associated with beliefs of particularly ancient origin. The egg was an important symbol in the mythologies of many early civilizations, including those of India and Egypt. It was commonly believed that the universe developed from a great egg and that the halves of its shell corresponded to Heaven and earth. The egg was also connected with the springtime fertility rituals of many pre-Christian and Indo-European peoples, like the old Cretans, and both the Egyptians and the Persians made a practice of coloring eggs in the spring.
American history teaches us that Easter was dismissed as a pagan holiday by the nation’s founding Puritans and did not begin to be widely observed until just after the Civil War. Today, Easter means renewal, rebirth and resurrection and is what gives meaning to the Christian Celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. For Christians, the origin of Easter is simply all about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus, the “true Messiah” promised in the Old Testament, was crucified and resurrected at the time of the Jewish Passover. Since that event took place, those who believe Christ is their Messiah have honored that day and celebrated it alongside the traditional Passover. As Jesus’s word spread throughout non-jewish nations, especially amongst people who did not have a history of celebrating the Passover, the pagan rites of Easter gradually became assimilated into what the Christian church called “Resurrection Day.” Therefore, Northern Christian cultures blended the celebration of these events with the Northern European Germanic celebration of spring, and of the goddess of Spring, Eostre, or Ostara, as Easter.
Whatever your belief’s, celebrate Easter with the spirit of rebirth and renewal. I love all these stories because to me, it proves that we are all more alike then we are different!
Do you have any special Easter celebrations that you’ve honored in your families history? Leave me your story below. I’d love to hear it…