As a child, I used to ask my parents and my Sunday school teachers the same question every Easter:
- Why does the date keep changing?
- How does the word Easter connect to all this?
- Why does a bunny have eggs?
- What does the bunny delivering eggs have to do with Christ and the Cross?
For those of you who 1) never thought of these questions or 2) never found the answers, I thought I'd shed some light on the Easter holiday people celebrate like clockwork.
Why does it keep changing?
Christmas is December 25; Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday of November. Easter, however, changes every year with seemingly no rhyme or reason. The date of Easter was set at the Council of Nicaea (in 325CE) as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox . The vernal equinox, or Spring equinox for the northern hemisphere, occurs when the tilt of the Earth relative to the Sun is zero. During the equinox, night and day are approximately equal in duration, and its occurrence is the marker of the beginning of Spring . Due to this method, it is possible that Easter may occur before the passover, according to sources [1, 3, 4]. In Luke 22, Jesus and the disciples prepare and eat the Passover feast, otherwise known as the last supper. Thus Biblically speaking, Easter should always occur after the Passover. Using a different method of calculation, the Eastern Orthodox church calculates their date for Easter based on the Passover so that Easter always occurs after the Passover . When this problem was raised to the Council of Nicaea, the argument for disregarding the discrepancy was that the replacement of the Passover lamb with Jesus severed the relationship between the two holidays . However, this neglects the chronological series of events; not to mention the fact that Jesus' sacrifice represents the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, makes the Passover intrinsically related to Easter. How can Jesus be the sacrifice before the Passover is supposed to occur? Furthermore, in Luke 22:16 KJV, Jesus says "I will not eat anymore thereof" in reference to the Passover feast--He doesn't say "ye" or "you." This implies He expects the disciples to continue eating the Passover meal...
How does the word Easter connect to all this?
With Christmas, you can at least argue that "Christ" is in the word Christmas. There is nothing about Christ, resurrection, Messiah, or even God, present in the term Easter. So why was it given to the most important Christian holiday? The word Easter may or may not be derived from a Germanic fertility goddess named Eostre. Sources are conflicted on the matter [5, 6]. Of course "Easter" is also the English translation of the word; in Greece the holiday is called "Lambros" which means bright or shining . Basically, what I gather from sources, is it was either named after a "real" pagan goddess, or people were celebrating a spring festival in the name of a fake pagan goddess and English Christians adapted the name. Either way, the term "Easter" has nothing to do with Christ.
Growing up I loved painting Easter eggs with my mom. It was probably the only time we actually used the food coloring in the house, and it was one more crafting experience for the two of us. We learned how to drain the egg without cracking the shell (man that takes practice!) and make the swirly-striped type of eggs. It was always fun. Then we'd take a basket of eggs to the church for the church Easter egg hunt. At the church I grew up attending, Easter tradition holds that the Saturday before Easter, the children meet for Easter play rehearsal. While the children rehearse, the parents hide eggs outside the church, and after rehearsal, they have the egg hunt.
But eventually I wanted to know why. Why are we searching for eggs? Why are we painting them? Why is it a bunny that hides them? I mean, once you get to a certain age, the stringing together of so many unrelated things becomes quite baffling...
Why does a bunny have eggs?
Bunnies are mammals; mammals do not lay eggs (well except for monotremes, but they're the rare exception). Bunnies don't eat eggs, either. So why would a bunny have eggs? I mean, there's already a suspension of belief to think a bunny can carry baskets and hide the eggs, etc., but where is the connection of why anyone would begin fabricating a story about a bunny delivering eggs? The connection between the bunny and the eggs, is simply the fusion of multiple traditions and festivals.
The Easter Bunny
It is thought that the emergence of the Easter bunny (in America) occurred in the 1700's with the introduction of "Osterhase" or "Oschter Haws." "Osterhase," by German tradition, is an egg-laying hare in which children would build a nest for so it could lay its eggs . The first documented tradition of an Easter bunny however, occurred in the 1500's, and the first published story of a bunny hiding eggs occurred in 1680. Another possible origin of the Easter bunny, is through the goddess Eostre/Ostara (mentioned earlier). Embodied in the saying "multiply like rabbits," rabbits are known to reproduce at a high rate. Therefore, it stands to reason that a rabbit would be the symbol for a goddess of fertility like Eostre/Ostara . From the date of origin, it is obvious that early Christians did not have an "Easter bunny" and the animal has no connection to the resurrection of Christ.
Another name for Easter eggs is Paschal eggs (which at least sounds less pagan and more Passover-ish). The legend of the Paschal eggs stems from a story—not found in the Bible—in which Mary Magdalene is challenged by authorities about her account of Christ's resurrection. The challenger supposedly remarks that the likelihood of Christ being resurrected was about the same as an egg Mary Magdalene was holding turning red in her hand. As legends naturally go, the egg in her hand immediately turned red. Stemming from this story, Orthodox Christians exchange red eggs known as Paschal eggs during Easter . Another non-pagan and possible origin for Easter eggs stems from Lent. Lent is the imitation of Jesus' 40 day fast just before the resurrection. It is thought that to celebrate the end of Lent, early Christians celebrated by eating eggs. Since they would not have had freezers or refrigerators, eggs would be one of the few feasible foods they could keep preserved until Easter. Eggs not only served as something they could eat to celebrate breaking the fast, but could also serve as a symbol for hope of a new life, paralleling Jesus' promise of a new life fulfilled through His resurrection . The Easter egg has pagan traditions as well, however. Many pagan festivities for the Spring used eggs and again, the egg was symbolic of new life and fertility (possibly pointing back to Eostre/Ostara). Coloring these eggs was also a tradition for the Persian solar new year festival. [1, 5]
What does the Easter bunny and eggs have to do with Christ?
As explained above, the Easter bunny has absolutely nothing to do with Christ. The eggs, however, are man made traditions in response to Lent and/or legends of Mary Magdalene's red egg combined with a little pagan influence. Still, neither have biblical significance.
The modern Easter holiday that is supposed to be dedicated to His sacrifice is laden with pagan origins and traditions. The ones mentioned here (and the first post), are only a few; there are of course the Easter dresses, suits, and hats, chocolate inside the plastic eggs, etc. that are obviously man made (and commercially endorsed) additions to the holiday. It is important to know the events from the Bible and identify man-made and pagan practices being ripped off as Christian principles. The story of Jesus' Resurrection and the events leading up to it, is told in Luke 22-24. Remember, the celebration of Jesus' sacrifice should be year round (and is directly tied to passover!
References and Footnotes
- "How the Easter Date is Determined". Time and Date; visited April 2014
- "The Spring Equinox". The Old Farmer's Almanac; visited April 2014
- Christopher J. Williams. "Why Easter Dates Vary, Year to Year". Springfield News Leader. April 17, 2014
- Scott P. Richert. "How is the Date of Easter Calculated". ThoughtCo; visited April 2014
- Jason Mankey. "Eostre, Easter, Ostara, Eggs, and Bunnies". Patheos. March 12, 2013
- Patti Wigington. "Eostre - Spring Goddess or NeoPagan Fancy?". ThoughtCo; visited April 2014
- Initially I posted this as 2 posts over 2 days (no clue why I did that); I’ve decided to condense it in to one episode here.