When we think of Easter we think of the Easter Bunny, colored eggs and how they relate to Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. We’ve gone so far as to make Easter Baskets available at our local markets so our children won’t go without.
So how does the Easter Bunny and Jesus’ resurrection correlate? Well, to be honest they don’t. In fact, they have little to nothing to do with each other. The only thing they have in common is that the spring holiday the pagans celebrated is about the same time Jesus was crucified and then resurrected from the dead.
The celebration of the spring equinox, which is what signifies the beginning of a New Year, or Nisan 1 (not January 1st), runs for a week to 10 days and ends close to Nisan 15 which is about the time that the events of the crucifixion/resurrection took place. That’s all that they have in common. In 325 A.D. during the Council of Nicaea, church leaders decided that in order to appease both the pagans and the Christians alike, they’d merge these holidays and celebrate them together. The death and resurrection of Jesus wasn’t celebrated as such. It was celebrated as The Passover and then The Feast of Unleavened Bread when Jesus actually died, as Jesus instructed in the last supper. See “Good Friday” posting. Good Friday celebrates Christ’s sacrifice and then Easter celebrates the resurrection from the dead, or so we’re taught.
The origin of Easter dates probably a 1000 years or more before Christ. While there are a number of stories, the more prominent are of the Chaldean goddess Estarte (eh-star-tay) and the Babylonian and Assyrian fertility goddess Ishtar. Estarte was known as the fertility goddess and was celebrated and prayed to during the spring to ensure a good crop for that season. While we generally go to the store for most things, that wasn’t the case 2000 or 3000 years ago. While they may have gone to the market to trade, the people generally grew their own crops or raised their own livestock. So, they had to have a good crop or healthy livestock to consume and/or trade. In order to ensure this good season they paid homage to gods or goddesses they understood as the source of that power.
Ishtar, the Babylonian and Assyrian fertility goddess, is most likely the origin of the word Easter.
The Easter Bunny comes into play as the hare, which at the time that represented fertility. We get the saying “they breed like rabbits” from this fact. Eggs are the symbol of new life. The coloring of the eggs is anyone’s guess.
Ishtar was believed to have a son named Tammuz who was said to be both human and divine (which may partially explain how Jesus got his divinity label). Tammuz was said to die and come back to life each New Year representing the new cycle of life of the crops. So we can see how the pagan traditions merged with events surrounding Jesus. While there were many pagan beliefs and sects of those beliefs, the Greek and Babylonian belief systems have had the greatest impact on Christianity.
The book of Leviticus tells us what Sabbaths or holy days God wants us to keep (Leviticus 23). While we don’t keep any of these today, they’re merely mentioned if they get any attention at all. The Council of Nicaea, under the guidance of Constantine I, decided what “holidays” we’d keep and it’s been that way ever since.
Now we know how Easter most likely came to be. While it is good to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for each of us, we need to keep all this in the proper perspective and not get caught up in the tradition that dictates how we worship and remember God, His son and the events of history. Getting together with friends and family is great, just remember, the holiday centers around paganism as much as it does Christianity.