What are the origins of Easter? | GotQuestions.org

By | March 13, 2020


Today’s question is, “What are the origins
of Easter?” In this video I’ll answer that question
from a biblical and historical perspective. Then afterwards, as always, I’ll share some
helpful resources, so stick around until the end. The origins of Easter are obscure. It is often assumed that the name Easter comes
from a pagan figure called Eastre who was celebrated as the goddess of spring by the
Saxons of Northern Europe. According to the theory, Eastre was the “goddess
of the east (from where the sun rises),” her symbol was the hare (a symbol of fertility),
and a festival called Eastre was held during the spring equinox by the Saxons to honor
her. This theory on the origin of Easter is highly
problematic, however. The major problem with associating the origin
of Easter with the pagan goddess Eastre is that we have no hard evidence that such a
goddess was ever worshiped by anyone, anywhere. The only mention of Eastre comes from a passing
reference in the writings of the Venerable Bede, an eighth-century monk and historian. Bede wrote, “Eosturmonath has a name which
is now translated as ‘Paschal month,’ and which was once called after a goddess
of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate the Paschal season by her
name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance”
( De Temporum Ratione ). And that’s it. Eostre is not mentioned in any other ancient
writing; we have found no shrines, no altars, nothing to document the worship of Eastre. It is possible that Bede simply extrapolated
the name of the goddess from the name of the month. In the nineteenth century, the German folklorist
Jakob Grimm researched the origins of the German name for Easter, Ostern, which in Old
High German was Ostarâ. Both words are related to the German word
for “east,” ost. Grimm, while admitting that he could find
no solid link between Easter and pagan celebrations, made the assumption that Ostara was probably
the name of a German goddess. Like Eastre, the goddess Ostara was based
entirely on supposition and conjecture; before Grimm’s Deustche Mythologie (published in
1835), there was no mention of the goddess in any writings. So, while the word Easter most likely comes
from an old word for “east” or the name of a springtime month, we don’t have much
evidence that suggests anything more. Assertions that Easter is pagan or that Christians
have appropriated a goddess-holiday are untenable. Today, however, it seems that Easter might
as well have pagan origins, since it has been almost completely commercialized—the world’s
focus is on Easter eggs, Easter candy, and the Easter bunny. Christians celebrate Easter as the resurrection
of Christ on the third day after His crucifixion. It is the oldest Christian holiday and the
most important day of the church year because of the significance of the crucifixion and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, the events upon which Christianity is based (1 Corinthians
15:14). In some Christian traditions, Easter Sunday
is preceded by the season of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and repentance culminating
in Holy Week and followed by a 50-day Easter season that stretches from Easter to Pentecost. Because of the commercialization and possible
pagan origins of Easter, many churches prefer to call it “Resurrection Sunday.” The rationale is that, the more we focus on
Christ and His work on our behalf, the better. Paul says that without the resurrection of
Christ our faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17). What more wonderful reason could we have to
celebrate! Whether we call it “Easter” or “Resurrection
Sunday,” what is important is the reason for our celebration, which is that Christ
is alive, making it possible for us to have eternal life (Romans 6:4)! Should we celebrate Easter or allow our children
to go on Easter egg hunts? This is a question both parents and church
leaders struggle with. Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of conscience
(Romans 14:5). There is nothing essentially evil about painting
and hiding eggs and having children search for them. What is important is our focus. If our focus is on Christ, our children can
be taught to understand that the eggs are just a fun game. Children should know the true meaning of the
day, and parents and the church have a responsibility to teach the true meaning. In the end, participation in Easter egg hunts
and other secular traditions must be left up to the discretion of parents. Want to learn more? Subscribe so you don’t miss the next video! Visit GotQuestions.org for more great content. And check out the details section below this
video, there you’ll find one book I recommend, along with links to several related questions. If you’d like to learn about Bible Munch,
or if you’re interested in Bite-sized devotionals, subscribe to Bible Munch on YouTube, it’s
linked right here. Now remember, Got questions? The Bible has answers, and we’ll help you
find them!

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