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The Origins of Easter

© John Keith 2012

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What do eggs and bunnies have to do with the celebration of Easter?

Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Good Friday commemorates His death on the cross, his crucifixion, and Easter Sunday, which is on the third day after the crucifixion, celebrates His return to life.

The birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas, (from “Christ’s Mass”) is always celebrated on December 25th, but Easter does not occur on the same calendar date every year. In the early centuries of Christianity, Easter was set as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, which the first day of spring. This placed it after the Jewish celebration of Passover, which is concerned with ancient Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt – the exodus, and Jesus’ crucifixion is also associated with the sacrifice of the Passover lamb. However, Easter also occurs at the same time of year as spring festivals of rebirth.

Our word Easter, in fact, comes from the Old German word “Eostre” or “Eastre”, which was the name of the pagan goddess of dawn, spring, and fertility. East, of course, is where the sun rises when the new day is born. Spring is the time when new growth, new life, “springs forth" from the earth. Fertility in the ancient pagan religion of Eostre was symbolized both by the egg, the beginning of life, and also the hare or rabbit, an animal which is exceptionally fertile. Celebrations of spring are observed today all around the world in many cultures and can go back thousands of years. However, the Christian celebration of Easter comes most directly from Germanic sources from which we have received the name Easter and the symbols of the Easter Egg and the Easter Bunny.

On the surface, then, Easter seems to be strictly the Christian religious celebration of the sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus, but Easter also shares with ancient and modern religions and traditions around the world the celebration of the rebirth of life in the springtime after the death-like cold and darkness of winter.

Comprehension Questions

1. How is the date of Easter set each year?


2. Where does the name Easter come from?


3. What do the symbols of the Easter Egg and the Easter Bunny stand for?


4. What is the main idea of this article?


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