The Easter holidays are just at the corner, and most are running up and down making plans on how and when to celebrate this year’s holidays. While the specific dates for other holidays may be known and easy to remember, the Easter holidays are quite contrary and fluctuate every year. What is Easter? What is Easter about in the bible? This post answers all the questions you may have regarding the origin, history, and significance of Easter celebrations to us today.
What is Easter about? Easter is a worldwide celebration for Christians where they celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death three days after he was crucified. The section of Christians who celebrate the day believe that the day represents the fulfilled prophecy of the Son of God who would come to earth as a human being, be persecuted, crucified and die for our sins, and finally overcome death on the third day as depicted in the book of Isaiah 53. By remembering the death and resurrection of the Messiah, Christians get to renew the daily hope that we can overcome sin and death.
When did people begin to celebrate Easter?
The ancient Christians began keeping the memory of the resurrection every Sunday immediately after its occurrence. The Council of Nicaea singled out a special day meant for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. The issue with setting aside a special day for the celebrations was deciding on whether it should be celebrated during Sundays or on a weekday.
According to most, it would be better if the specific dates were on the basis of the timing of Christ’s Resurrection during Passover. As a result, the religious leaders of Christianity could only set a date for Easter celebrations three days after the annual Passover date set aside by the Jewish leaders. But following this schedule would pose several challenges since it meant that the celebration would take place in different days of the week every year, and it’s only once in a while that the celebration would fall on a Sunday.
Another section of believers thought that since the Lord Jesus Christ resurrected on a Sunday which had already been set aside as the day of the Lord, then this would be the ideal day to celebrate the resurrection. With time, as Christianity gradually drifted away from Judaism, a section of Christians was hesitant to celebrate the crucial day in Christianity based on the Jewish calendar.
Finally, the church council settled on Sunday as the most appropriate day to celebrate Easter, and they chose the first Sunday that follows the first full moon that succeeds the vernal equinox. It may be difficult to establish the proper date for these celebrations since the dates for the vernal equinox fluctuate from year to year. However, this is still the ideal way of coming up with the specific Easter dates, and that’s why we have Easter being celebrated earlier in some years.
Since Easter represents the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, one would believe that there’s no room for paganism. But in reality, Easter is one of those holidays or celebrations that are most intertwined with pagan ritual and symbolism.
What is Easter day?
The origin of the term ‘Easter’ may not be that certain. According to The Venerable Bede, a scholar and monk of the eighth century, the word may have originated from the Anglo-Saxon Eastre or Eeostre – the Teutonic goddess of fertility and spring. Recent scholars haven’t succeeded in figuring out any goddess mentioned by Bede and thus view this theory to be worth discredit.
Another possible origin of the name is the Norse ostara, eastur, or eostur, which generally referred to ‘the season of new birth’ or ‘the season of the growing sun’. Notably, the word east also shares the same origin. In this case, Easter celebrations would be linked to a change of season.
The Christian background offers a complex and more recent explanation as opposed to that of the pagan. The ancient Latin name for the Easter week was ‘hebdomada alba’, which generally referred to the ‘white week’. The Sunday that comes after Easter got the name ‘dominica in albis’ which referred to the white robes of the newly baptized Christians. Notably, the Latin word ‘alba’ refers to both dawn and white. The Old High German translators mistakenly used the word oastarun, the plural of dawn instead of using the plural of white. We get the German Oestern from the term ostarun, which later became the English Easter.
What is Easter in Christianity?
Currently, most Christians don’t necessarily refer to the celebrations as Easter, but Resurrection Sunday. The name change is based on the day on which Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead. A section of Christians have sunrise services, though this lacks any biblical merit and is basically a human intervention. All in all, the focus of this day is directed towards celebrating Crist who died for our sins and rose on the third day. This forms an essential doctrine in Christian faith as highlighted by Paul in his writing:
‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.’ 1st Cor 15:3-6 New International Version (NIV)
Whether or not Christians should celebrate Easter is a question that only parents and church leaders can address for their families. While the culture of Easter bunnies and painted eggs may lack any Christian foundations, it would be true to note that lots of pagan practices have slipped into the current traditions without most being aware of it. For instance, most people believe that the wedding ring is of pagan origin, but most Christians who get married fail to see the connection to paganism. Instead, it has been used to represent the unbroken circle that marriages should emulate.
Everyone is at liberty to choose whether or not the trappings and traditions of the Easter festivities aren’t ideal for them. Therefore, it would only be fair not to judge those who participate in the festivities. If a church recognized the ‘Resurrection Sunday’ to honor the risen Christ, and not of any pagan goddesses, then why not glorify the name of the Lord? This statement may be the appropriate answer for those who are asking ‘what is easter for Catholic?’
What is the Easter bunny?
What’s the first thing that crosses the mind whenever you think of the word Easter? For Christians, the first thing would be to envision the cross or an empty tomb. But for the general public, an onslaught of media images and goods on store shelves would make it more likely that one thinks of the Easter bunny. So how did a rabbit that distributes eggs become part of this Christian celebration?
There are a couple of reasons why the hare or rabbit is associated with Easter celebrations, all of which originate from pagan beliefs and celebrations. The most obvious of the reasons is the fertility of the hare. The celebrations come during spring and usually celebrates new life. According to Christianity, the meaning of new life in Christ is different from the general emphasis on new life, but the two merged with time. So any animals that brought forth lots of offspring were easily included.
The hare or rabbit was anciently used to symbolize the moon while the dates set aside for Easter usually depend on the moon. Therefore, this may also be the reason why the hare was incorporated into the Easter celebrations.
The rabbit or hare’s burrow also played a significant role in adopting the animal as part of the celebrations. A section of believers saw the hare coming out of its hole as a symbol that represented Jesus coming out of the tomb on the resurrection day. Perhaps this was just another case of giving Christian meaning to a pre-existing symbol.
The use of the hare in Easter was introduced to America with the German immigrants, and the role was passed to the normal rabbit. Initially, kids made rabbit nests in bonnets, fancy paper boxes, or hats, as opposed to the baskets that are currently used. Once done with creating their nests, they would put them in secluded spots that wouldn’t frighten the shy rabbits. This appealing nests with lots of colored eggs probably had a key role in spreading the custom.
Back in Germany, the southern part to be precise, the first candy and pastry Easter bunnies gained popularity in the early nineteenth century. The custom then crossed the Atlantic, and until now, kids still eat candy rabbits at Easter, particularly the chocolate variety.
What is Easter egg?
The next most familiar symbol after the Easter bunny is the Easter egg. Just like the other symbols, the egg can be associated with a long pre-Christian history. Even here, it’s still not certain why and how it became associated with Easter celebrations.
According to most cultures, eggs were viewed to be a symbol of life. Phoenicians, Egyptians, Persians, and Hindus believed that the world came out of an enormous egg. The Chinese, Greeks, and Persians gave eggs as gifts to celebrate the new life around them during spring festivals. According to other sources, people in Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Persia ate dyed eggs during spring festivals.
Early Christians assessed the connection between eggs and life, and decided to include eggs as part of the celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Additionally, in other areas, egg consumption was forbidden during Lent, so it was left to be an Easter delicacy. Since most of the earlier customs had Eastern origins, a section of believers speculates that the knights of the Crusade or early missionaries brought the tradition to the west.
After the custom had gained acceptance, new traditions came up. For instance, people could dye eggs red to represent joy, and in memory of the blood of Jesus Christ. Additionally, egg-rolling contests entered America from England, and most view this culture to be a possible reminder of the tombstone being rolled away during resurrection.
What about the popular Easter egg hunt? A source suggested that the culture originated from Germany where during the Easter celebrations, children searched for hidden pretzels. Since the kids hid nests for the Easter bunny and filled them with colored eggs while hunting for the pretzels, it only needed a small leap for them to begin hiding eggs instead.
Regardless of how you refer to this day, it is important for you as a Christian to believe that Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. This generally insists on repentance or turning from your sinful ways, confessing them to the Lord, and finally placing your trust in Jesus Christ since “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26). Feel free to leave your comments about this day in the comments section and keep the discussion going.