Is Easter pagan in origin?

Carla Paton

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Easter is a celebration and holiday observed by millions of people worldwide in commemorating Jesus' resurrection from the dead, which the New Testament describes as occurring three days after his death at Calvary. It is also the day on which youngsters eagerly await the arrival of the Easter bunny and the delivery of their chocolate eggs.

While Easter, as we know it now, was never a pagan event, its origins and many of its rituals have a strong resemblance to old pagan practices and beliefs.

Easter is celebrated yearly and corresponds to the first Sunday following the full moon following the March equinox. It is observed on various dates worldwide, as western churches follow the Gregorian calendar, while eastern churches follow the Julian calendar.

According to the New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Easter derives from the Saxon goddess Eastra, whose honor sacrifices were made each year around Passover time. By the ninth century, the Anglo–Saxons had adopted the word to the resurrection celebration. However, even among those who believe Easter had pagan origins, there is still debate regarding which pagan ritual inspired the event.

Pagan was formerly used to refer to individuals who followed non-Christian religions. Early Christians coined the phrase, which had a pejorative meaning. While Christianity grew throughout early Europe, many individuals retained their polytheistic beliefs. These individuals were subjected to the derogatory label, which acted as a societal pressure to convert to Christianity. It also served as a target for discrimination. Since the twenty-first century, however, several members of non-Christian faiths, particularly those who have acquired a kind of spirituality, have begun to use the phrase to define themselves. As a result, paganism has developed into its own religion. However, early pagans are credited with establishing the groundwork for modern Easter, and hence some regard it as a pagan holiday.

Easter's origins are inextricably linked to Eastra or Eostre, a pagan goddess honored by the Saxons in April. Her feast day was commemorated by fertility festivities and the distribution of eggs, which symbolized new life. Eostre is said to have been assimilated into the Christian tradition, and her name was given to the Easter celebration. The Easter bunny, some say, is also a relic of Eostre's devotion, as she was frequently represented with rabbits or hares.

However, the origins of Eostre remain a mystery, given there are few proofs for her existence outside of medieval sources. According to some academics, she may have been modeled after a genuine person or deity from Germanic paganism. Her name originates from the Old English terms for "east" or "dawn," referring to her position as a bringer of light and life. Easter is historically observed in the spring, which may have to do with Eostre's affinity with fertility and new beginnings.

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Colorado Highland cattle rancher. Writer and lover of nature and animals.

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