Easter is perhaps the only “Christian” holiday that still has a pagan title. It all started with the ancient Saxons actually. They celebrated the return of spring with the old adage, laugh, drink and make merry. This festival was held in tribute to their Goddess of fertility and springtime, Eastre or Ostara. When the early Christian missionaries met up with the northern Saxons, they attempted to convert them to Christianity. This was much easier said than done.
As fate would have it, the festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of the year as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. Little by little Christian aspects were added to the pre-existing pagan beliefs, and eventually the name of this mixed holiday was changed to Easter.
Enter the Easter Bunny. The Goddess Eastre, was sometimes represented with a woman’s body and a rabbit’s head. The Anglo-Saxons worshipped her through her symbol, the rabbit.
It was actually the Germans though, that brought the Easter Bunny to America. Children in Germany build nests in anticipation of a visit from Oschter Haws, an egg laying rabbit. They awake on Easter morning to find a nest full of colored eggs laid by this unusual hare. It was this tradition brought to America by the German settlers in Pennsylvania that heralded the American version of the Easter Bunny. Easter was not a widely celebrated holiday in the U.S. until after the end of the Civil War
The Easter Egg is also a symbol of fertility and rebirth. Dying eggs is not a new custom. In fact, eggs were boiled with leaves or flower petals and exchanged as gifts of fertility.
Easter was not always celebrated on a Sunday. In fact, prior to AD 325, it was celebrated on different days of the week. During that year emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea issued the Easter Rule. This Rule stated that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the Spring Equinox. This Rule applies to the ecclesiastical full moon, which due to a whole lot of technicalities, does not always fall on the same date as the astrological full moon. The ecclesiastical Spring or Vernal Equinox always falls on March 21. So, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25. Constantine also decreed at the Council of Nicaea that the Cross would become the official symbol of Christianity. And since the resurrection involves the cross, it has become a symbol of Easter as well.
Another pre-Christian spring celebration that centered around the Vernal Equinox was held in the Mediterranean region. This festival honored Cybele, the Phrygian Goddess of fertility. Attis, Cybele’s consort was said to be born of a virgin and was believed to have died and been resurrected three days later. His death was commemorated on a Friday and his resurrection took place three days later on Sunday. Osiris, Dionysus and Orpheus are Gods who also were supposed to have been born of a virgin, died and then were resurrected.
There are other Easter traditions that are pagan in origin, but are also part of some Christian traditions as well. The Easter sunrise service is passed down from the ancient practice of welcoming the sun on the morning of the Spring Equinox, marking the beginning of spring.
I see Easter as a beautiful blend of both Pagan and Christian traditions. In both cases it is a celebration of death and rebirth. With the Spring comes new life, new growth and new hope.
So go to a Sunrise Service, eat a chocolate bunny and color some eggs…. Have a happy Easter/Ostara.
Love and Light…
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