What Is Easter All About?
DO YOU know? Actually almost all people who celebrate Easter know little about it. In fact, about all they know is that it is supposed to commemorate the resurrection of Christ Jesus. They do not know the answers to vital questions pertaining to Christendom’s greatest festival, questions such as: Where did the name “Easter” come from? How did Easter get started? What is the meaning of Easter’s curious customs? Above all, what does the Bible disclose about the Easter festival?
The word “Easter” appears in the King James Bible at Acts 12:4; this, however, is an error of the translators. The original Bible word pascha simply means “passover,” and that is the way modern translations render it. So Easter is not really mentioned in the original Greek of the Christian Scriptures. But does not the Bible command Christians to commemorate some event concerning Christ?
Yes, Jesus told his followers to remember his death, which occurred on Nisan 14, A.D. 33. His followers were to celebrate his death by keeping the Lord’s evening meal each year at that date. “Keep doing this,” said Jesus, “in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:24, NW) What about his resurrection on Nisan 16, A.D. 33? Jesus gave no command to celebrate it. Nor did the apostles who talked with the resurrected Christ give any command to celebrate his resurrection. His death was the only event to be memorialized by a Christian feast.
Since Easter is not authorized by the Bible, where did it and its name come from? In the book Great Catholic Festivals, by Jesuit James L. Monks, there are some clues. This book, bearing the imprimatur of Cardinal Spellman, tells us on page 33: “It often happens that when pagans are converted to Christianity they retain some of the customs of their former life and Christianize them, as it were. The pagan Anglo-Saxons used to celebrate a festival of their goddess of spring, who was named Eôstre. When they became Christians and celebrated our great festival, which always comes in the spring, they kept the old name which became our Easter.”
It becomes apparent, then, that Easter is a pagan name and that the event is associated with a pagan goddess of spring. But let us now go back to the time when Easter got its official start. It was A.D. 325, long after Christ’s resurrection. By now apostasy had set in and there were many false Christians, Christians in name only. The pagan emperor Constantine was one of them. Constantine, who was still chief priest of the Roman pagan religion, assembled a large number of these apostate Christians together at the Council of Nicaea. What was this pagan priest’s motive?
He wanted harmony in religion for political reasons. And so, as the book A General History of Rome tells us, “he combined in his own mind the two hostile faiths rather than balanced them against another—a state of feeling rather than of opinion, which is more common, perhaps, than is generally supposed.” Constantine thus blended the two religions, the Roman pagan religion and apostate Christianity. One of the results was that Constantine decreed that “everywhere the Great Feast of Easter” was to be observed.
This appealed to the pagans, since they had long been used to worshiping a springtime goddess of fruitfulness. To the Greeks and Romans her name was Astarte. The Babylonians had worshiped her by the name Ishtar and the Phoenicians by the name Ashtoreth.
It was natural that the customs and rites pertaining to these springtime goddesses and their worship would surround Easter. Thus archaeologists have uncovered carvings of the fertility goddess Ishtar. They found her holding an egg in her hand and a rabbit at her feet. Thus the book Great Catholic Festivals comments on Easter: “The eating of eggs on this day is said to have come down from pagan usage of the egg as a symbol of fertility.” And The Catholic Encyclopedia says under “Easter”: “The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility.”
Worshipers of the springtime goddess Ashtoreth had a custom of eating cakes in her honor. They called the goddess “queen of heaven.” Of Ashtoreth and her worshipers the Bible says: “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.” (Jer. 7:18, AS) Jehovah’s anger was kindled against his people whenever they adopted these pagan customs. But those who adopted the pagan Easter festival were not interested in following the Bible. They Christianized the pagan cakes, so they thought, by marking a cross on the top of them, thus the hot cross buns.
Even the wearing of new clothes and the Easter parade were part of the pagan rites. European pagans believed that wearing a new bonnet on Easter brought happiness in love. The Easter parade is a late addition to the festival, according to some authorities, who say that it comes from an ancient Chinese spring procession. Rich mandarins donned their finest robes and then displayed them en masse to one and all. “Such things as Easter-eggs, Easter-fires, Easter-games and Easter-laughter,” concludes the book Easter, “all seem to have a heathen origin.”
Though Protestants for a long time took no notice of the Catholic Church festival Easter, within the past seventy-five years virtually all Protestant churches have begun to observe Easter. Of the United States, the book The American Book of Days says: “It was during the Civil War that the nonritualistic churches began to observe Easter. So many men were killed and so many homes were made desolate that the churches strove to bring all the consolations of religion to the bereaved. In the Presbyterian churches first, and in the others later.”
Knowing what Easter is all about, what does the true Christian do? He knows the Bible rule: “What fellowship does light have with darkness?” And he follows God’s command: “‘Get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing.’” There is no reason to follow the Easter paraders. Follow Jehovah. Separate yourself from Easter and its unclean pagan practices.—2 Cor. 6:14, 17, NW.