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Is Easter a Pagan Holiday?

By Mark Harris, Founder and CEO of 4Tucson

It seems every year I hear the question, “Is Easter a pagan holiday?”

There’s an assumption that the name Easter comes from a pagan goddess of spring called Eastre (or Eostre), and that she was the goddess of the east where the sun rises. It is thought that her fertility symbol was the hare and that she is honored annually around the spring equinox. However, this has little basis in fact. There is no historical or archeological evidence that would support the idea that such a goddess was ever worshipped by anyone, anywhere, at any time in history.

So, what are the roots of the pagan Easter mythology that come to the fore every year? It appears that an eighth-century monk and historian named Venerable Bede in passing wrote, “Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated as ‘Paschal month,’ and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate the Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance “Eosturmonath.” No one knows for sure, but since there have been no shrines or alters found to support the concept of a pagan goddess of Easter, many researchers believe it is possible that Bede extrapolated the name of the goddess from the name of the month. The more I have researched the origins of Easter the more obscure it becomes. 

Here is what I do know. Whether you prefer to call the holiday Easter or Resurrection Day the reason Christians celebrate is the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after His death on the cross. It is the oldest Christian holiday and marks the high point in the church calendar. Easter Sunday is preceded by a 40-day period of fasting and repentance called Lent. Easter is then followed by a 50-day period of the ministry and teachings of Jesus after his resurrection until Pentecost.

We should not be surprised that our culture has commercialized this high, holy day with Easter eggs, Easter candy, Easter baskets and the Easter bunny. These commercialized myths provide an alternate narrative calling people’s attention away from the life-giving message of the crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection.

Here is some good news. In contrast to the pagan Easter myth, there is overwhelming evidence of Jesus’ death on the cross and of His resurrection from the dead. The best eyewitness account of this is found in 1 Corinthians 15. I encourage you to take the time to read it as a reminder of the wonderful reason we have to celebrate. The fact the Jesus is alive makes it possible for us to have eternal life.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

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