Last year, I saw a post on social media that implied that all of the Christian holidays, including Easter, have pagan origins. When I saw this, I knew I wanted to dig deeper. Is Easter really a pagan holiday? Should Christians still celebrate Easter in the way we traditionally do in our culture? There are some people who think that many of our Easter traditions are wrong. So if I participate in an egg hunt, or allow my nieces to visit the Easter bunny, is that wrong? Are these practices displeasing to God?
What Do Christians Celebrate During Easter?
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”John 11:25-26 ESV
Even if some of the traditions and symbols connected to Easter celebrations today have pagan roots, the holiday itself is not pagan. When Christians celebrate Easter, we are thinking about the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is important to celebrate because it is foundational to our Christian faith. It is a reminder that Jesus’s claim to being the Son of God was true.
Early Christian Celebrations of Easter
The earliest recorded observance of an Easter celebration comes from the 2nd Century, but celebrating Jesus’ resurrection probably started earlier. The last supper was Jesus’s last Passover, so early Christians still observed Passover but integrated the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection into the holiday.
In Acts 2:22-24, Peter preaches about the resurrection on Pentecost. It wasn’t called Easter but it was the first time that Christians celebrated Jesus’s resurrection.
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.Acts 2:22-24 ESV
In 325 A.D the Council of Nicea decreed that Easter Sunday, the day after the first full moon, after the spring equinox, would become the day to celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Why People Think Easter is Pagan
People claim that Easter is pagan for a few different reasons.
Some people think that the word Easter came from the word eostre, a name for the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.
This is largely believed to be where the focus on eggs comes from. Eggs represent fertility and birth.
However, some believe that eggs became important to Easter because they were used to break one’s fast in medieval times. During this time, fasts were very strict and you could not eat any meat or dairy, including eggs while fasting. Eggs, though, could be preserved longer, so that is what people ate to break their fast. Not only that but yes, eggs were a symbol of new life; being born and breaking free from a shell. This is obviously a huge theme for Christians during Easter since Jesus was resurrected and gave us new life so that we can break free from the shell of sin if you will.
The tradition of the Easter bunny is also said to have pagan roots representing fertility. Some sources say that in the 1700s the tradition of bunnies laying eggs came to the states when Germans settled in Pennsylvania. While this does not point to a pagan root, it also doesn’t necessarily point to Jesus.
There is now widespread consensus that the word Easter comes from in albis, a Latin phrase for “dawn” and became eostarum in Old High German, the precursor of the modern German and English term.
Many times, Christians will object to celebrating Easter for these reasons. On the other hand, non-Christians tend to have an issue not just with Easter itself, but also with the idea of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
People think the death and resurrection are made up and copied from the pagan religions that came before Christianity. There are myths of Egyptian gods who died and were reborn. The Persians also worshiped a god, Mithras, who was born from a virgin and who died and rose from the dead. To argue against these, many of the gods in these myths died and rose again each year, not once and for all as Jesus did. Also, Jesus’ death accomplished the salvation of the world and the death of these pagan gods did not accomplish anything.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.Romans 6:8-11 ESV
Should We Celebrate Easter?
Yes, we should. I read an article from Got Questions that I think sums everything up pretty perfectly, “Regardless of what a day may once have meant, its observance today needs to be evaluated on the basis of what it means today. Christians celebrating Easter are no more pagan than are churches that gather to worship on Sunday (so named because it was the pagan “Day of the Sun”). The pagan origins of the names of the days of the week have nothing to do with the church’s weekly gatherings, and ancient pagan spring festivals have no real bearing on the modern Christian celebration of Easter.”