All opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Chocolates, floral dresses, and best of all, bunnies. These may sound like a familiar combination, as they are some of the highlights of the Christian holiday called Easter. Of course, one cannot forget the origin of the word “Easter,” the goddess Eostre. Associating Easter with a goddess may seem confusing, but many parts of our modern Easter tradition have little to do with the original celebration of Jesus’ resurrection; in fact, some traditions from Easter are derived from the pagan festival that honored and revered the goddess Eostre. If we focus on Easter’s non-biblical traditions more than reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice, we are depriving ourselves of the joy found in worshipping the Lord.
According to Beda Venerabilis, an Anglo-Saxon monk and author, the original English term for the month of April was Eosturmonath. He writes that “Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month,’ and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.” In the book “Religions of the World,” G.L. Berry explains that “The spring festival of Ostara [the Germanic name for Eostre] became the Christian festival of the resurrection.” H. Kreb elaborates on how the hare became a symbol of Easter and gained the ability to lay eggs:
“Originally the hare seems to have been a bird which the ancient Teutonic goddess Ostara (the Anglo-Saxon Eàstre or Eostre, as Bede calls her) transformed into a quadruped. For this reason the Hare, in grateful recollection of its former quality as bird and swift messenger of the Spring-Goddess, is able to lay eggs on her festival at Easter-time.”
Before there were colored eggs sprinkling lawns, there was a young Jewish boy named Jesus who traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, a journey he would make again decades later, anticipating his crucifiction and resurrection After the festivities, Jesus offered his life for the sake of the world. Christians celebrate Easter to worship Jesus for his sacrifice and resurrection, but in doing so, we are ignoring the very way Jesus worshiped.
In Exodus 12:24-27, the initial Passover is described:
“Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.
The Passover is the celebration of God rescuing the Israelites from Egyptian oppression. The processes used in Passover celebrations today continue to hold powerful symbolism. In an article in TIME magazine, Sarah Gray describes just a few of the many symbolic elements in the Passover meal:
A roasted shank bone represents the Pescah sacrifice, an egg represents spring and the circle of life, bitter herbs represent the bitterness of slavery, haroset (an applesauce-like mixture with wine, nuts, apples, etc.) represents the mortar used by the Jews in Egypt, karpas (or greens, often parsley) to represent spring (Gray 2020).
The story of the Passover is a mirror to Jesus’ own sacrifice. During the Passover, an innocent lamb’s blood was shed so that God’s wrath would pass by the Israelites during the killing of the firstborn sons in Egypt. Similarly, Jesus’ blood was shed as a payment for humanity’s sin, and God’s wrath fell on him so that those who believe would be saved.
Easter is just one example of how we can inadvertently celebrate Christian holidays with traditions that aren’t rooted in biblical practices, rather than following Jesus’ example of worship in remembrance of God’s great works on earth. Reflecting on the Passover and its parallels to the Crucifixion and Resurrection throughout our Easter festivities proves to be much more spiritually fulfilling than Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies alone. By focusing on earthly pleasures rather than heavenly miracles, we may be missing out on the joy that comes from focusing on God and praising him for his blessings. As we go through the holidays, perhaps we should ask ourselves why we celebrate the way we do. Are we passively celebrating our faith with secularized traditions, or will we choose to worship in such a way that points to Christ?
Learn more about traditional Easter and Passover celebrations:
Religions of the World, by G.L. Berry
Bede: The Reckoning of Time (Translated), by Liverpool University Press