With Easter coming up soon, it’s worth reviewing the origins of the holiday. Why did we start celebrating Easter, and what are some of its pagan roots? Moreover, how did Easter develop as a Christian festival, and what are some of the different ways in which it’s celebrated by Christian groups around the world. Finally, just where did the bunnies and the eggs come from?
The Pagan Origins
The origins of Easter can be traced back to ancient pagan rituals and practices – one of these was the Saxon worshipping of the Spring goddess ‘Eastre,’ as well as a number of cults that featured female deities as part of their Spring equinox celebrations. Some of these goddesses included the Hindu Kali, and the Norse Ostara; various Mediterranean cults also used deities around Springtime that were connected to resurrection, most notably the Cybele cult and the god Attis, who died on Black Friday before being brought back to life.
The Christian story of Jesus’s death and rebirth also has multiple precedents in other religions, most notably Krishna’s death an rebirth. Other celebrations, including the worship of the Roman god Mithras, who was born on Christmas Day, and the marking of the resurrection of Dionysus in Greek myth, also offer comparisons to the Easter story. It’s also worth remembering that there is no direct mention of Easter being celebrated in the Christian New Testament.
How we understand Easter today is more to do with a set of days and times of the year that have been variously negotiated over the centuries to our current Holy Week of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, as well as the following Pentecost Sunday. Easter has long been a ‘moveable feast’, and one with no fixed dates – the First Council of Nicacea in the centuries after the formation of Christianity tried to set dates around the Spring equinox, although these vary.
The first century monk Bede identifies an awareness of the seasons and the Spring equinox as being important to the celebration of Easter, but with significant differences around the world. For example, many sects used the Hebrew calendar to determine Spring, while the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity continued to use the Julian Calendar to mark Easter, rather than the Gregorian Calendar.
Many Christian groups either didn’t or continue to avoid celebrating Easter – the Puritans rejected it alongside other elaborate ceremonies, and pointed to it not having precedent in the Bible. Other groups have avoided Easter for its connections to the Roman Catholic Church, while Quakers don’t celebrate Easter or Christmas, instead celebrating every day equally.
What about Bunnies and Eggs?
So, what about the bunnies and eggs that we see every year on Easter eCards, shop windows, and other venues? The tradition of the Easter bunny has some precedent with the goddess Eastre, who was often associated with rabbits and hares. Similarly, the exchanging of hot cross buns and sacred or sweet cakes was a tradition in the Bible, and one that had earlier uses in pagan religions to mark the Spring. Easter Eggs can also be variously interpreted as having their origins in the egg as a symbol of rebirth, and to the tradition of giving ‘Holy Week’ eggs.
About the Author: Chris G is a passionate blogger who regularly writes about art, craft and creative topics. He has recently been looking for alternate and more “environmentally friendly” gift options which are easier on the wallet.