An Easter Myth
“Did you know…” These words can be a precursor to harmless trivia, important truths and everything in between. They can also be an introduction to something that sounds true, but simply isn’t. I can’t remember the first time I heard the big myth about Easter or the little ones that are sort of packaged around it. I can recall a particularly powerful presentation that attempted to “set the facts straight.”
A friend and persuasive communicator told me that Easter was pagan and full of pagan influences, and he could back that up. I still respect this person; they were convinced they were sharing truth and that it was important because it impacted how we worshipped God. He would claim most people didn’t know that Easter was pagan, because they didn’t know their history. Sure, many of us know that Christ died on the Jewish Passover, as He was the Passover lamb. He would suggest that overtime Christians stopped celebrating Passover, and it morphed into modern Easter which had roots in paganism.
Had they wanted to focus on Passover, I’d be all for it. We can’t fully understand the New Testament, without understanding the Old Testament. Jesus was a very Jewish Messiah, and we can forget that. While not all the laws found in the Old Testament apply to us, in fact many of them never applied to any non-Jewish person, the prophecies, the culture, the expectations, all these things play a role in understanding the New Testament. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:24 that the Law is a “Schoolmaster” to Lead us to Christ. The Passover itself is full of important symbolism that helps explain why Jesus had to do. This speaker wanted more than a return or refocus on Passover and made more claims.
I had no problem calling Easter Sunday “Resurrection Sunday.” Emphasizing Jesus’s resurrection is the most important part of the Sunday. Easter is a word many take for granted and many non-Christians still recognize the holiday in a secular form. Being able to say, “resurrection Sunday” as an option is okay, but my friend, and others, suggest we shouldn’t ever use “Easter.”
He and others claim that we get our word “Easter” came from the name of a pagan goddess, Ishtar. Just because it sounds similar doesn’t mean that’s the origin of the word. Ishtar was a female pagan goddess associated with fertility. She had many names through the middle east, but the word Easter actually originates in Europe. It’s a shortening of the old English month “Eostremonath” which was a month on their calendar in March-April. Most Christians celebrated “Pascha” a German word for Passover, during “Eostremonath” (March) or what would become April. The date moved around due to the difference between various calendars. Some calendars were based on the sun, others the moon. It’s something we take for granted today, and it can be easy to forget that not everyone was using the same dating system.
Christians were celebrating Pascha, or Passover, long before Christianity was dominant in Europe or Germanic speaking areas who used the calendar. Some have suggest the “Eostre” came from a pagan goddess, but there is only a single reference to her from St. Bede and scholars are divided on if that goddess existed at all. Even if there was a goddess with that name, there is no evidence of any sort of festival for her, any worship of her, and the Christian worship at the time predated Christians being in the area where she may have existed. The name Estremonath just happened to be the month when Pascha was celebrated, and overtime it was shortened to Easter.
Michael Jones, of Inspiring Philosophy, has done some of the most accessible research on Christian holidays. His uses a comparison to illustrate some of the faulty thinking involved in using the name of a month to label something pagan. Many Americans call Independence Day by its date, “July 4th.” Most of them don’t realize that July is named for Julius Caesar. When people light fireworks or gather for BBQ, they aren’t engaging in pagan festivals venerating a Roman emperor, instead they are giving thanks and for our freedoms and even when calling it “July 4th” they are simply using common language.
My friend who was against using the word Easter and others have more to go on than the name Easter. The eggs and the bunny are prime targets. Supposedly symbols of Ishtar or some other pagan goddess. Here things are a bit muddy, as some cultures did use eggs as fertility symbols and others did use bunnies, but is that how they got be a part of what we now call Easter? It doesn’t look like that way based on research of Michael Jones and others. Original the “bunny” was a hare and first referenced in 1572, long after pagan worship had died in Europe. Hares are solitary animals, not known for the fertility. They were however hunted for food and showed up again in the spring. Easter eggs are claimed to have come from Persia, but the most likely explanation is that in the area they first appeared, the Catholic believers observed lent, and need to preserve eggs as they avoided meat. They are hardboiled and they celebrated at Easter when they could eat meat again.
If the concern is not their origin, but that they can be a distraction, then I’m sympathetic. We don’t do the Easter Bunny in my house, except for the chocolate kinds! We do candy and we have fun, but we prioritize reminding them of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But some argue that even allowing that is somehow introducing my kids to pagan worship. I think the confusion arises over what worship is.
Worship derives from a word that more basically means to give someone or something, recognition of worth and value. Christian worship, biblical worship, refers to intentionally focusing on God as the creator and greatest of all. He is Holy and unique. Can we lift up idols and distractions? Sure. Those are two different things though. Kids aren’t worshipping the candy or the games played at Easter, anymore than they are at other times of year. Have non-Christians used eggs in fertility worship? Sure. They have used all kinds of food in various worship, but I’m not giving up say beef, because of worship of gods in the shape of bulls.
I have heard folks piously say, “You worship God your way, and I’ll worship God His way.” I understand the desire to worship in “Spirit and Truth” (John 4:24) but we must also verify what we believe to be true, and we must be careful to not communicate falsehoods, even with good intent. We also need to be careful we don’t communicate them in a way that makes us look like a “know it all” and should have some humility when we approach topics like this.
This year, enjoy your Easter. Have fun with the kids and grandkids. If you happen to run into claims easter is pagan, I’d recommend digging into Michael Jones work on the Inspiriting Philosophy YouTube channel, and passing it along to those who make those claims. While well meaning, those claims can be a stressful distraction from a wonderful time of celebrating the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. God Bless, have a peaceful, Blessed Resurrection Sunday and yes, a happy Easter.