The History and Significance of Easter

As a child, I would have described Easter as the Sunday we woke up while it was still dark and had our church service outside. We wrapped in blankets, hoped to see the sunrise, and topped off the morning with a huge carry-in breakfast. In my teens, I would have said much the same, expanding my explanation to include Christ’s Resurrection. Needless to say, I had a very limited understanding of Easter in my early years. I understood the significance of the holiday well enough. Until recently, however, I did not know the story behind the name and symbols that we as Christians associate with ‘the holiday that moves.’

The significance of “the greatest gift Christian holiday” (Porter), is easy to explain. It commemorates the day Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, rose from the dead. In this single act, the penalty for sin was paid, and His followers were now free to come before God in His name. Christians celebrate Easter as a reminder to rejoice over what Christ has done for us. Our work for His glory in this life will not be in vain. At His second coming, we also will be raised from the dead; our new bodies will be incorruptible, glorious, powerful, and spiritual. Death itself will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15)!

This is what Easter is all about: Christ’s resurrection. But what about the egg hunt at Grandma’s house? The fluffy bunny decor? And why does the date change every year?

In the New Testament, no distinct celebration of the Resurrection is mentioned. Scholars assume the Jewish Christians simply connected it with the Passover and remembered it on the 14th day of Nisan. This caused a problem because the Gentile believers always celebrated it on Sunday. After years of controversy, the Council of Nicaea “ruled that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. This is the system followed today, the date of Easter varying between March 22 and April 25 (Tenney).”

Some say that the name Easter originated in the worship of a pagan goddess named Eostre. Others disagree, claiming instead that the name came from a mistranslation of the Latin phrase hebdomada alba into Old High German as esostarum, which then morphed into the English word ‘easter.’ In Spanish and French, the words for the holiday are both derived from the Latin/Greek word Pascha, which means Passover. Since Christ’s Resurrection happened during the Jewish celebration of the Passover, these languages seem to make more sense than English (History.com).

However, the inclusion of eggs and bunnies into the celebration points to more than a mere mistranslation issue. Eggs are common pagan symbols of new life and fertility (and would often be decorated as part of their celebrations), as are rabbits (for obvious reasons). Neither are mentioned as such in the Bible therefore pagan practices and customs must have merged with the Christian. Consequently, Christians made new meanings for the old symbols – eggs came to represent resurrection, and the hollow chocolate ones to represent the empty tomb (Stein). The Easter lamb, however, is a symbol that comes directly from the Jewish Passover celebration (B.E.W.) and the sunrise service “would appear to be rooted in the Gospel narratives describing the Resurrection of Christ….The congregations that gather for the sunrise service are in effect attempting to reenact the drama described in the Gospels (Goetz).”

So there you have it: the word Easter does indeed have pagan origins, but celebrating Christ’s resurrection is most definitely worth the holiday. Should we ditch the eggs? Perhaps. The reason behind the holiday? Never.

Stephanie Stephanie Kinsinger and her husband, Eddie, currently reside in Elnora, Indiana. Originally from Virginia, they both miss spending time with family and seeing mountains wherever they go. She works part time as the janitor for Elnora Bible Institute. Art, music, reading, coffee and good conversations with friends are all things she enjoys.

Sources Used

B. E. W. “Christianity.” The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ed. Philip W. Goetz. 15th ed. Vol. 16. Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1975. 363. Print.

“Easter.” The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Ed. Philip W. Goetz. 15th ed. Vol. 4. Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1975. 333. Print.

History.com Staff. “Easter.” History.com A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

History.com Staff. “Easter Symbols and Traditions.” History.com A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.v

Piper, John. “The Overflow of Easter: A Whole Theology of Resurrection in One Chapter.” Desiring God. N.p., 24 Apr. 2011. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

Porter, H. “Easter.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Ed. James Orr. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1939. 889. Print.

“Easter.” The Basic Everyday Encyclopedia. Ed. Jess Stein. New York: Random House, 1954. 165. Print.
“Easter.” The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Ed. Merrill C. Tenney and Steven Barabas. Michigan: Grand Rapids, 1963. 230-31. Print.

One thought on “The History and Significance of Easter

  1. Good thoughts. In my opinion we need not ditch everything that has pagan origins, we would be throwing out a lot including the celebration of Christmas and most non-Jewish holidays and traditions. I certainly agree that we should emphasize the biblical elements of all of our holidays and traditions.

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