The Pagan Reason We Celebrate Easter With Colored Eggs & The Easter Bunny

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easter holy cross

Easter arrives this year on Sunday, April 4, 2021, but if you think Easter started as a Christian holiday, think again.

The history and origins of how Easter began aren't rooted in what Christians know as Resurrection Sunday, but rather, as part of the lexicon of the Pagan Easter traditions and holiday.

Even as Christians celebrate the day of Jesus Christ's resurrection, people of other faiths and religious traditions (which existed for millennia before Christianity was established) celebrate their own stories of their God being brought back to life again after death.

From the Egyptian god Osiris to the Greek god Dionysus, among others, resurrection has always been a fairly common theme of religion and mythology.

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Easter's meaning and traditions are closely connected to paganism. According to one article on its history, "The general symbolic story of the death of the son (sun) on a cross (the constellation of the Southern Cross) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness, was a well worn story in the ancient world. There were plenty of parallel, rival resurrected saviours, too."

In fact, Easter is named after Ēostre, a pagan goddess who was worshipped for centuries before Christ.

Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility, from whom we get the word estrogen, was believed to usher in spring every year, thereby resurrecting the earth from the dead of winter into the new life of spring.

But what about all the Easter bunnies, eggs and family egg hunts?

What is the story of pagan Easter?

One year, Ēostre was late coming in and the snow didn't melt. This made it hard for the birds to find food. One little bird broke its leg while digging through the deep snow. Showing mercy for the bird, Ēostre turned it into a rabbit so it could hop on top of the snow.

She knew the rabbit still had the heart of a bird, so she allowed it to continue laying eggs — all of which would now boast the glorious colors of spring. It therefore became a tradition for families to paint Easter eggs in honor of their goddess and in gratitude for the spring.

It was only centuries later that the tradition of "hiding" eggs grew.

Many scholars believe this practice was a way for pagan families and children to worship Ēostre without suffering persecution by the Catholic Church, which had criminalized paganism.

In a further effort to aggressively Christianize the pagan population, the Catholic Church "taught" them that the resurrection of their god happened on Easter, thereby claiming the Pagan holiday as a Christian one.

That's why, to this day, you will encounter many Christians who mistakenly assume this holiday has purely Christian origins, and who may even feel insulted when anyone challenges this belief.

If you celebrate Easter, remember to embrace the many colors of spring.

This includes respecting the many belief and non-belief systems, old and new, that celebrate in ways that are meaningful to them and their families. These "illuminated" traditions have incredibly rich and colorful histories and it is long past time for them to be resurrected.

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What is the pagan history of Easter?

According to pagan history, there was never an Easter pagan festival; however, Easter's roots and traditions are closely associated with ancient pagan customs and beliefs.

Easter is also known as the pagan celebration of Ostara, Austra, and Eástre. Ostara is the festival that coincides with the Vernal Equinox which celebrates the renewal of life on earth with the start of spring. Ostara celebrates a time of rejuvenation and renewal. 

Ostara starts on March 21, which is also the start of the Spring Equinox. Ostara marks when the amount of daylight is equal to the amount of nightfall and the continual growth of daylight. Eástre is often depicted with a hare because she was said to bring light and fertility, which is what the hare represents.

Jacob Grimm’s "Deutsche Mythologie" explains that the idea of resurrection was incorporated in the Ostar celebration, as Eástres' meaning and power could be easily adapted by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Does Easter mean Ishtar? Easter does not mean Ishtar; however, the original celebration of Easter was named Ishtar, after the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex.

Ishatar's symbols included the egg and the rabbit, which are fertility and sex symbols. In the 4th century, after Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire, Easter was then changed to represent Jesus and not Ishtar. 

The true meaning of Easter is about the sacrifice that Jesus willingly made for others' sins. His resurrection is important in Easter because it brings rebirth, renewal of faith, and salvation to all.

Is Easter a pagan holiday?

Easter for Christians is not a pagan holiday; the main difference is that Christians celebrate Easter as the day of Jesus Christ's resurrection. Even though the feast of Jesus's Resurrection coincides with pagan celebrations, that doesn’t mean it's derived from pagans, and the same goes for Jewish Passover.

There are plenty of Easter activities that come from pagan traditions and stories. 

One of the reasons ham is part of Easter dinner comes from the pagan lore of Tammuz, a man who was killed by a wild pig. Pagans celebrated by eating a pig to honor Tammuz.

But to mourn his death, the pagans gave the tradition of not eating meat for 40 days, which is now part of Lent, and then after every year on the first Sunday, and after the first Full Moon from the spring equinox, which is the kind of timing Easter follows.

Decorating eggs was also a pagan tradition. When life began to blossom in nature, pagans decorated eggs to celebrate this time of rebirth and then gift the eggs to family and friends. The easter egg hunt also comes from pagan traditions, as the pagans used eggs in their celebration of Eástre, having to hunt for the eggs and use what they could find. 

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Are Easter eggs a Pagan tradition?

For Christians, giving eggs out at Easter celebrates new life, as the egg is a symbol of the tomb where Jesus was placed after he was taken down from the cross. Cracking an easter egg open represents Jesus's resurrection. 

In Orthodox traditions, they paint the eggs red to symbolize Jesus's blood that was shed on the cross.

But the tradition of decorating eggs for Easter actually dates back to the 13th century. Eggs were formerly a forbidden food in the Lenton season. Therefore, people didn't want to waste them, instead painting and decorating them to mark the end of Lent.

The reason we have Easter eggs and Easter baskets is because of a German tradition that made its way to the U.S. in the 1700s, when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania. 

In the German tradition, children would make nests for the egg-laying hare, named Osterhase, to leave its colorful eggs in. Children who planned to be good throughout the year would do this and be rewarded with Osterhase's colorful eggs. 

As the tradition spread across the U.S., the magical hare was then changed to the Easter bunny, and its morning deliveries expanded to chocolate, candy, and gifts; instead of children making a nest, the eggs would come in decorated baskets.

What are the true origins of Easter?

The true origin of Easter comes from the Saxons.

In the 8th century, the period from 701 (DCCI) through 800 (DCCC), Anglo–Saxons designated the word Easter as the celebration of Jesus Christ's resurrection, according to the writings of the eighth-century English monk Venerable Bede. 

Many European languages, excluding the Germans who use the name Ostern, use the Latin name "Pascha" for Easter, which is derived from the Hebrew "Pesach," meaning Passover. Greeks say "Pascha," Italians say "Pasqua," the Danish say "Paaske," and the French say "Paques."

Are Easter and Christmas pagan holidays?

Pagan traditions remained as Christianity took over, because Christians actually found the pagan traditions special. That's why a lot of holidays are around the same time as many pagan festivals — Easter being on the same day as the pagan's Spring festival Ostar, Christmas occurring on the same day as the pagan winter festival Saturnalia, or the celebration of the birth of the Sun god.

Easter and Christmas aren't technically pagan holidays, but they occur on the same days as pagan festivals and have similarities in the traditions of each.

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Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B. is an author and conflict specialist who offers a fast, focused and no-nonsense alternative to couples counseling and ineffective marriage coaching systems.